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Digital Is Going Dark: Only Early Adopters Will Thrive in 2017

“Imagine a world…”

In creative fields, this is a branding exercise we regularly do with our clients, customers, and colleagues.

Imagine a world where that problem didn’t exist…

Imagine a world where you could do this thing…

It may sound like the trailer for a bad action movie, but it can be a powerful exercise when developing a narrative.

The opposite is also a powerful tool.

Imagine a world with a brand new problem…

In Joseph Campbell’s monomyth (the hero’s journey), a story’s protagonist is called to venture into a previously unknown world. In the prototypical monomyth, the protagonist first refuses that call to action, opting to stay in the safe and comfortable space they’re familiar with.

Hero's Journey

For digital marketers, this cyclical process seems to be on steroids. We venture into an unknown space, tackle a new challenge, get comfortable, and then start all over with some new unknown. For many of us, that’s why we do this: constant challenge is what we thrive on.

But our industry has become slower to answer the call. We’ve been through this. We’ve tried the new things. We want to let someone else take the journey first, and if it works out for them, we’ll follow.

In a lot of ways, this is a good thing. Slowing down and really taking stock of our activity is something our industry sorely needed. But slowing down also means we ignore calls that we need to answer, and right now, the market is shouting at us with a bullhorn.

2017 Social Marketing Planning Guide

The market is changing quickly. Facebook is moving conversations out of the feed and into messenger. Snapchat is about to IPO. Twitter and Instagram are enabling DM conversations in new ways. The big four messaging platforms have more users than the big four social networks. This is the new world of social, and in 2017, it will only continue to take root.

Early adopters who focus on enabling activity in these dark channels are the ones who will come out ahead. But let’s explore what that means.

Dark Social: Digital Marketing’s Next Adventure

Everything from conversations to conversions are going dark…but what does “going dark” mean?

It means we aren’t retweeting every link or sharing every product to our Facebook feed. We’re connecting with people in private channels much more often than we are in public.

Think about your personal day-to-day “social” activity. You may post an article or two to Twitter, and share a few things on Facebook…but how many conversations are you having with your colleagues via Slack or Skype? How many links are you sharing with a group of friends via Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, or email on a daily basis? How many houses on Zillow and products on Amazon are you sharing via text with your spouse? If you’re like most people, it’s way more than what you share publicly.


This sharing is critical for marketers to understand. We call it “dark social,” but it’s much more than social. This sharing signals intent like nothing else. The content that our colleagues, friends, and spouses share with us comes with immediate credibility and influence. They’re sharing it – with us – for a reason. They know we’ll be interested.

These conversations aren’t new, but our ability to follow them is only recently coming to light.

You may be saying, “We use UTMs, so we’re covered,” but that really only works for conversations that you control. When I visit your site, then share a link, I don’t update that UTM to reflect my activity, and this only helps you identify page activity, not user activity. Digital marketing is an influence-driven medium, and without the signals into the users that are influencing interactions with your brand, you’re only operating with half the picture.

Dark Social Is Bigger than Social

If you’re a digital marketer, or an agency that caters to digital marketers, you need to be prepared to identify, understand, and optimize how dark social is sharing.

A 2016 study by RadiumOne found that in the last year-and-a-half, Dark Social shares as a percent of on-site shares jumped from 69% to 84% globally.

At Simply Measured, we’ve seen that 50% of social traffic to a company’s website–and more importantly, 50% of social sales–are coming through dark channels.

Owned, Earned, Paid, and Dark Social: Definitions, and Where to Begin

By understanding the content that’s driving these conversations, this traffic, and these sales, brands and agencies are able to optimize campaigns across paid and owned channels like never before. This tie between social and web makes dark social a marketing problem, not a social one.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

This isn’t a problem that you need to be stuck with. As 2017 approaches, there are ways to solve for this problem, but as in an AA meeting, the first step is actually admitting that there is a problem. Once you do that, talk to an analytics company that addresses dark social about how you can track, understand, and optimize based on dark social sharing.

If half of your content is already being shared in the dark, don’t you want to to turn a light on? Imagine a world where you can…


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Kevin Shively

I lead marketing for Simply Measured. Recovering journalist. My team is embarrassed of my hilarious jokes. Firm believer that the best marketers are the best storytellers and the best storytellers use the best data.

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