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Dark Social Media and how to leverage it

Updated: Apr 2, 2021


Dark Social Media

A phrase coined because it cannot easily be tracked by reporting platforms like Google Analytics. The word ‘dark’ is not an implication of bad or illegal but rather private. Think private conversation platforms like Messenger or WhatsApp. So, whereas a brand can track conversation on open channels like a regular Facebook post, they cannot on a private conversation on dark social platforms; but dark social is on the rise and is here to stay. In fact, dark social has been around for decades. We used to call it Word of Mouth. It used to be the most powerful form of advertising and guess what? It still is.


According to The Drum - 63% of people prefer to share information on dark social media compared to 54% on open channels. That’s a large majority of social media users and many people overall. Drilling down on the stats further reveals a split in popularity across various platforms as follows:

  1. Facebook messenger 83%

  2. Whatsapp 56%

  3. Instagram 34%

  4. Snapchat 32%

So, if we look at this from the perspective of the owner of a business, people may see adverts in open channels but prefer to discuss them in closed channels. This can partly be attributed to people feeling that they can ‘be themselves’ in private channels. Have you ever seen a sponsored Facebook post with loads and loads of comments, but all the comments are tagged people? It’s likely that these people are then going away and discussing the post in private.

Wouldn’t it be great to know what people are saying about your business and your post?

Well, you can’t. Not through a private conversation on Dark Social Media anyway. Not unless you’re invited to the party or…

…create your own party. Now there’s a thought.


Open sources of social media are open to the public. An example would be a regular post on Facebook or a Facebook advert. The advert is pushed out into the crowds and with a little help from some targeting we sit back and wait for a response. Sometimes it works which is great but look back in this blog about people being tagged and the buzz leaving your ad and going dark.

create a social media buzz

We have been asked to leave our own party. How embarrassing.

We could post in a targeted group which covers a geographical location or that focuses on a certain activity or interest. In this way we are moving towards getting to know a certain group of people with a common interest which is a positive step (as long as we build a relationship with them and not just sell a product). Another positive step would be to have a referral made about your business on a referrals page. Why shout about yourself when other people will do it for you.

Taking this one step further, who would you trust to refer a business to you: a stranger who might have a vested interest in a business (I’ve even seen referrals from people and later found out that they hadn’t even directly used who they referred!) or your own friends

and family?

It's friends and family all the way; and where do we source their recommendations? You got it- dark social media (which, in my opinion, covers a phone conversation or a good old chat in person over a cup of tea).


The true extend of the reach of open source advertising is not going to be accurate due to the presence of dark social (which is clearly on the rise). Even Google analytics will chuck all website referrals through dark social into a bucket and label it ‘direct traffic’. Not exactly useful…

According to a blog on Global Web, as many as 1 in 2 people will share a link to a website to recommend a service or a product. Imagine how many links go unnoticed on dark social media…

Businesses need to take control of dark social for themselves and certainly shouldn’t ignore dark social in favour of more time-honoured methods because of the difficulty in being invited to the party. Time to start writing your own guest list…

Greggs Bakery took the initiative in 2016 by creating a WhatsApp group for their biggest fans called ‘Festive Bake Lovers’, created a buzz on open source platforms about it, added exclusivity by implementing genuine scarcity through limiting the number of members to 250 and then guess what? Everyone was talking about Greggs. It went viral, newspapers reported on it, and Greggs infiltrated Dark Social like a sausage infiltrates a roll. Well done, Greggs.


chat with your customers online

Dark social, in a greater way than open social media platforms, is about being… well…. social! It is fundamentally important to realise that people spend their time on these platforms in order to converse, share info and build links through trust. This isn’t about selling a product at people at all.

Start a conversation. Create a buzz. Inspire. Provoke thought. Discuss. Seek advice or opinion.

This is about getting to know your audience and giving them a reason to do business with you when they are ready. I mean, have you ever had a cold call from an energy supply company or internet provider and came away from their call thinking ‘wow, that caller really built up trust. I’d be happy to buy from them!’

I didn’t think so.

People buy from people. It’s about having a reason to choose you over your competition. So, if you manage to break through to dark social take the time to converse with your tribe and really value them as people and individuals. They will be your best advocates.

Although reach may never be as big as more traditional forms of advertising, you have the ability to talk directly with social media influencers and people whose reach does expand further than you may think.

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