The adoption of private communication channels including Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, LINE and WeChat is accelerating. These ‘dark social’ platforms that once served a single purpose are fast developing into extensive content toolkits for privately sharing messages and media.
One arena where brands are seeing increased traction is chat extensions. Viber’s new update allows users to directly share YouTube videos, Giphy GIFS, or VICE news through each brands dedicated extension, instead of passing around clunky hyperlinks.
Facebook has also seized its IM platform’s opportunity to benefit brands, launching similar third-party extensions with partners including Spotify and OpenTable.
Douglas Nicol, founder and partner at On Message, commented on the strategy's viability, “We’re living in a world where brands have to offer utility, service, and a great experience. App extensions allow brands to be truly relevant. Not just talking about themselves, but servicing a customer.” Nicol estimates that, in Australia in particular, chat extensions have seen a 57 percent increase in use, year on year.
Facebook Messenger also employs its own Discover section which—according to the social media giant—increases the opportunity for businesses and people to interact, streamlining daily tasks like reading relevant news, checking sports highlights, or booking flights and hotels, all within the app.
Public content delivered first on a dark social channel is seeing increased adoption rates. WWD has debuted a bot for Facebook Messenger and WeChat which delivers personalised content on global fashion, beauty and business trends. The project, carried out in partnership with Headliner Labs, is the first but certainly not the last of its kind from a US fashion brand. Brands like Subway, Yahoo, American Express and Nike have also gotten on board with similar bots.
Nicol gave his take on the mechanism's success, “You don’t want to be stuck engaging with AI that bores you, just like you don’t want to be stuck at a dinner party with someone who can’t engage in meaningful conversation. This new avenue for marketers is all about designing great conversations merging together: content, personality, functionality and respectfulness.”
This balanced blend of user functionality and brand awareness is a good template for how successful brands are starting to position themselves within dark social channels, and with an active community of over 3 billion, these private communication platforms present an untapped goldmine for brands.
What's more, dark social presents functional data from users in their natural element, comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings. Nicol explains, "There used to be a time when people were proud of having hundreds of friends in the traditional Facebook environment. Now, we're actually seeing people want to engage in one-to-one communications, where you don't have to manage your 'personal brand' and airbrush everything in a newsfeed environment."
Despite its nomenclature, the dark social world is not opaque. There are tools available to give marketers a clear view of how consumers are interacting on IM channels. A prime example, RadiumOne deploys sharing analytics, mobile analytics and smart links across clients' owned, earned, shared and partner assets. "We are working with many high profile brands across the region that are having great success leveraging dark social to achieve their marketing goals," says Charlie Baillie, regional director, Southeast Asia, at RadiumOne, "It is a powerful medium when fully harnessed."
Building your marketing strategy around the intimate world of dark social garners actionable data points and fully-realised KPI, but it also provides a better overall understanding of consumer intent and a rectification of meaningful, user-focused content. Boosting this reputation, in a recent study conducted by RadiumOne, it was discovered that 87 percent of all content sharing in Southeast Asia occured via dark social. Meanwhile, 84 percent of mobile clickbacks in the region happen via dark social channels.
To reap the results, choose a programmatic partner with the resources to accurately track your content sharing in dark social environments and map out your target audience, pay attention to your brand’s position within IM platforms, and understand the opportunities posed by thriving communication portals like chat extensions and chat bots. This will bolster your ability to reach out with entertaining, informative, inspiring content—introducing ROI beyond the invented metrics of likes and shares.