Could dark social lead b2b businesses into the light?

Posted by Sara Hawthorn
dark social for b2b brands

The rise of private messaging apps has been increasing for the last few years. From WhatsApp and Messenger to Telegram and Slack more conversations are happening away from public channels in so-called dark social. Links are being shared and conversations are happening away from the public space which poses the question – how do businesses reach these people in an effective way which encourages response?


What does the term ‘dark social’ even mean?

The term ‘dark social’ has been around for at least three years; an Econsultancy article from 2016 references a study from 2014 with a powerful, albeit now old, statistic claiming dark social accounted for 75% of referrals in the UK.

Personally, I heartily dislike the term ‘dark social’. It’s titled as such due to its lack of traceability and visibility – something we marketers harp on about on a daily basis. The theory is that we don’t know what’s being shared, by whom, or when on these private channels and that’s frustrating as hell for a bunch of people who itch to know results and prove their worth.


Testing dark social ourselves

Back in January we launched our own WhatsApp channel because, well, we were bored of newsletters, frankly and thought there was a better, simpler way to share information and stay in touch with people.

Every two weeks on a Monday, we send out a broadcast containing blog links, industry info, and a question. WhatsApp for business offers basic statistics – messages sent, messages read and replies. To track what we share we use utm tracking links, shortened for ease.

So far, we’ve sent eight broadcasts and based on the WhatsApp stats we’re running at a 98% read rate. However, for transparency and realism, I don’t know what WhatsApp takes as a read, if it’s like normal WhatsApp then it’s probably a two blue tick situation, where we know it’s been opened by the recipient. What we don’t know is how long the message was opened for or whether it was scanned or read properly.

In terms of replies, we’ve had 14 to the eight messages sent, this is a bit lower than I’d hoped, but the comments themselves are encouraging, with members telling us they liked the type of content we were sending, that it’s info they wouldn’t have come across otherwise, and – importantly – that they like the format.

We also know from the utm links that people are clicking on the links we send them (hands up here, I made an error on some of the tracking links and now I’m trying to find the actual numbers for this) and the time on site ranges from .11 seconds to 3.35.

Our experience is that information and analytics are still a little vague but they are doable to give some insight into performance on WhatsApp, however value is definitely there in terms of building relationships and having direct conversations with people. And with that we come to the big question.


Is there any point to dark social for b2b businesses?

A couple of weeks ago, WhatsApp announced a new feature for business users – the ability to include a product catalogue, which could be great for smaller businesses with a set product or service list. What this will look like, I’m not sure, but with the roll-out of a ‘click-to-WhatsApp’ feature which allows customers to chat with you directly in WhatsApp, it’s clear Zukerberg is taking dark social seriously with the tools he’s offering and planning to offer in the business version.

This makes it a viable and potentially lucrative option for b2b businesses, not just in a monetary sense, but as a way to regain some control of the conversation and build a community around your business. There’s also the scope to develop this into different groups or broadcast sections which will enable greater tailoring of content and curating of conversations as it grows.

I’m not going to fib – it’s a bit of work to cultivate and nurture but five months down the line, we’re sticking with it. You can join us here or for help to create your own WhatsApp community ask us for a cup of tea and a chat.

I’m sorry for the terrifying image. I’d written dark social so much I had nothing but The Dark Crystal in my head by the time I’d finished and who wants to see another stock phone screen with icons picture? Sweet dreams!