friends hanging out in Iceland photographing the aurora borealis
PHOTO: v2osk

According to eMarketer, US spending on public social networks like Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram will increase 20.4% in 2020 to more than $43 billion. This is not an insignificant amount of spend, and while the investment drives broad reach and awareness, many companies don’t realize the value “dark social” traffic brings may actually be far greater than advertising on open feeds.

The term dark social describes web traffic generated when people share links through private channels like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. Because the link is shared privately, reporting tools have a harder time tracking these referrals compared with public platforms. In fact, traffic monitoring software often wrongly attributes this traffic entirely. Yet GetSocial found that 77.5% of link shares are through dark social.

The Value of Dark Social

While many companies are starting to better understand the value within dark social at a high level, most continue to overlook the opportunity to ensure their content is putting its best face forward there. 

The prevalence of dark social is why many brands today are allocating a greater amount of attention and advertising spend to private social applications. But as they do, marketers and developers must pay attention to the interaction between the microbrowsers on the apps and their brand websites.

Specifically, messaging apps generate a preview when links are shared, which they determine by interacting with the company’s site. Brands must ensure they make the right content available to these microbrowsers in order to fully take advantage of this marketing opportunity.

3 Best Practices to Optimize Dark Social Engagement

Here are three best practices companies can follow to ensure that dark social readers see the most captivating and important information to compel a click-through and an ultimate conversion.

1. Display Visuals for Organic Amplification

There’s nothing worse than a link that previews a low-quality image or even no image at all. People are more likely to click on a link a friend or family member shares if the link unfurls a compelling image, or even better — a video. According to my firm, Cloudinary’s 2020 State of Visual Media report, micro-video content is typically just 10-20 seconds long but delivers big engagement and conversion gains.

Not only will people who receive a link with captivating visuals trust that it’s not just a phishing scam, but they will also want to click to learn more and, ultimately, make a purchase. For example, a link to a pair of running shoes online can showcase a high-quality image with a preview of the colors available. The link can also unfurl a video of the shoes in action, highlighting someone exercising and showing off the great features of the product. 

Related Article: 4 Ways to Tell a Better Visual Story and Improve Customer Experience

2. Tailor Ads for Direct and Indirect Traffic

Personalization is key to making connections with consumers, which is why brands must tailor ads depending on the platform. Since Facebook, Instagram and Twitter users aren’t necessarily looking for a specific product or to make a purchase when they’re on the platform, these ads should aim to reel in less-qualified prospects by showing images and videos of preferred styles or first-time customer discounts.  

On the other hand, ad designs for unfurled links in microbrowsers should be tailored for qualified prospects that just need final bits of information to make the sale. People know their family and friends better than any brand could, and in this case, the sender has done the hard work on the brand’s behalf. They’ve not only expanded the reach, but also pre-qualified the lead, making the receiver that much closer to crossing the checkout line.

These consumers are open to word-of-mouth referrals and are more likely interested in the content being shared. By creating compelling, informative links with images, video and text information specifically for microbrowsers, brands increase the likelihood that peer-to-peer recommendations in groups convert into sales and reads.

Related Article: Which of the 3 Personalization Types Are You?

3. Use Responsive Image/Video Management

Brands must also consider the different browsers, devices and expectations that prevail, especially since people share content throughout both direct and indirect channels. For example, the previews generated in iMessage will look different than those in WhatsApp or Slack. Developers should pay attention to how the rendered link shows up in each platform to ensure that all images and videos are optimized.

To dynamically respond, brands can use artificial intelligence (AI)-driven image and video management tools to detect the environment and adapt images and videos quickly. Since web teams can’t possibly manually code visual content that anticipates every scenario, intelligent tools are necessary to detect the environment and dynamically adjust the content to reach the most prospects.

Mining the Marketing Gold You Can’t See

Dark social traffic is growing and becoming a highly valuable (digital) word-of-mouth marketing strategy. Although brands can’t see where direct traffic is coming from, it’s clear that private messaging app usage is rising relative to social networks. To get the most bang for their buck, the above best practices can help brands make sure content is compelling enough to help attract new leads and more reliably convert interested consumers into customers.