How do you track, measure, and control something you can’t see?
Impossible, right? We’re not Superman. We don’t have superpowers. We’re just good B2B Marketers and ABMers.
You work hard, create great campaigns, put your message out there and then you can’t see its real impact.
What do you mean - I can’t see its real impact? Of course I can.
I can measure impressions, clicks, views, etc. on LinkedIn, Twitter, TikTok, Facebook and everywhere else I share my content.
Sorry to disappoint you... but you know Titanic and the iceberg? The reality is not what you see ‘above the surface’ but what is going on ‘under the surface’.
While the ‘tip of the iceberg’ shows you numbers on who’s engaging with your content, they don’t show what is REALLY happening.
They don’t show you who is REALLY consuming your content - sharing it, commenting on it, talking about you as a person or your company, etc.
Those statistics don’t show what is REALLY being shared privately through Slack channels or other online communities.
They don’t REALLY reflect shares through emails, direct messages, or video conversations where someone recommends your brand or drops their friend a link to your website.
Which makes it practically impossible to measure. [It only becomes visible when they reach your environment and decide to show their ‘face’.]
This is the challenge of Dark Social and the Dark Funnel [more on which is which later].
And with the rise and diversity of social media, that ‘darkness’ is a growing issue for attribution-hungry marketers looking for light.
But, just because Dark Social and the Dark Funnel exist in the shadows, you simply cannot ignore it.
Dark Social is very real; and now is the time to shine a light into those corners, and learn how to make them work for you.
So what do you need to know about Dark Social to succeed in ABM?
Like Darth Vader, it’s time to explore the power of the Dark Side...
What is the ‘Dark Funnel’?
Believe it or not, the term isn’t exactly new. But in recent years it’s become a hot topic for B2B marketers.
6sense defines the Dark Funnel as:
“It’s a ghostly data-realm packed with buyer intent information that revenue teams historically haven’t been able to access.”
Alice de Courcy, CMO at Cognism, defines it as:
“It’s a term that means the places that buyers are engaging and making decisions that no attribution software or tracking can account for.”
Essentially, it’s the blind spots in the customer journey that are seemingly impossible to track, meaning the first time you are aware of the buyer is when they fill out the form on your website.
They travel through the sales funnel, untracked.
And with the rise of social networks, it’s becoming even more difficult to know who is engaging with your brand in the shadows.
Some examples of Dark Funnel channels include:
- Third-party sites
- Word of mouth
- Online communities eg. Slack, Peak Community, Pavilion, etc.
- Review sites
- Social platforms such as LinkedIn, TikTok, etc.
- Emails and texts
- Zoom, Teams, etc.
- Dark Social channels, e.g. Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, etc.
Whilst the awareness of the Dark Funnel has increased with the growth of online platforms, it extends beyond the online world.
It accounts for both online and offline conversations that marketers simply cannot see or track.
It’s an untapped pool of knowledge and insight that marketers need to learn to work around and leverage to support their B2B marketing efforts – and that’s where Dark Social comes in.
“Today, customers educate themselves in countless ways and your website may not even be in the mix. There is a much richer information ecosystem. That’s what makes today’s sales funnel ‘dark.’” - Mark Schaeffer
What is Dark Social?
Dark Funnel and Dark Social - are the same thing, right? Well, not exactly…
Dark Social is a term coined in 2012 by Alexis Madrigal, who shed light on the idea that we are only measuring the tip of the iceberg.
On social, you’re only measuring what is publicly visible on those platforms, such as the posts you’re tagged in, or likes, comments, and shares.
But what about the buyers that see your posts without interacting with them? The ‘watchers’ who see your content, your ads, and look up your website organically instead of clicking a link?
With Dark Social, you’ll see site traffic like this, but have no visibility into what sparked that visit or enquiry originally.
And that makes performance measurement extremely difficult, as you don’t know where to double down on Marketing spend and where perhaps to ease off?
It’s estimated that around 1 in 6 website visitors arrive on websites through messaging apps and other private communication channels, meaning a large chunk of your traffic is likely untraceable.
What impact does the Dark Funnel have on ABM?
‘If you can’t see the activity of your target accounts, how can you gain the insight needed to engage them?’
We know that Account-based Marketing thrives on data and insight of the accounts you are targeting.
Without that insight, ABM is much more difficult.
Yet while the Dark Funnel can make things more challenging, it also provides a well of insight that can drive ABM success. You just need to know how to tap into it.
When coming to terms with the Dark Funnel, many marketers may experience feelings similar to the stages of the grieving process.
It’s hard, but it’s important to accept that you will never know 100% of what goes on in the Dark Funnel.
But despite any denial, anger, or bargaining stages you may go through; that doesn’t mean it’s time to despair - a Dark Social strategy can help you.
6 steps to a strong Dark Social strategy
1. Be part of the conversation
You need to be where your customers - current and future hang out.
That means LinkedIn, Twitter, TikTok… wherever they spend their time, that’s where you need to be.
Each channel requires its own strategy - just think how different TikTok is.
Equally, your LinkedIn company page needs a very different strategy to your own personal page.
Build your network, connect with peers, establish yourself as a thought leader within that channel.
Find your niche, and talk about it. Be known (and followed) for something.
Not with a view to convert leads or make a sale, but with a view to educate, inform, share, learn, exchange ideas - let’s just call it to help.
This is how you will build a community of like-minded people. A community that speaks directly to the audiences that matter.
At the Agency, LinkedIn has become our second home. It’s where we share insight, have conversations, and connect with fellow ABMers.
And this investment has certainly paid off in more ways than one.
2. Join communities
There are so many great B2B communities - niche and general to join.
Here at the Agency, we are huge fans of Pavillion, Peak Community, and DGMG.
It’s where are peers hang out.
It’s where our current and future customers hang out.
It’s where we learn, participate, share, engage, and follow the latest news and events in B2B Marketing and ABM.
It’s more and more the case that it is in these communities where your current and future customers look for advice on how to be better at their jobs and look for recommendations on vendors.
Our advice is you should NOT join communities to sell. You will fail and be ‘blacklisted’. Join with the desire to help and it will pay back ten-fold.
3. Create customized content
The content you produce and distribute on Dark Social won’t be the same as that for your SEO strategy.
SEO works on intent.
It’s about using ranking data to inform what your buyers are searching for, and producing content that a) speaks to that and b) can be indexed by Google et al.
With Dark Social, there is no intent.
What’s ranking on Google will not necessarily be what performs well on social platforms.
So the secret here is to focus on producing customized content that speaks to what your community wants to hear.
Resharing your company blog or promoting your website isn’t going to perform. It’s out-of-touch and irrelevant to your audience.
Instead, you should be producing content natively within that channel. Ready to consume, timely, relevant content that your network can relate to and engage with.
Remember: content distribution is arguable MORE important than the content itself.
Learn to leverage popular channels to distribute content in a consumable way, and you’ll find that your audience is far more likely to share that content with their peers, whether publicly or privately.
Here at the Agency, we take each episode of Let’s talk ABM podcast and repurpose it into multiple different format types to be distributed in channel:
4. Start conversations
With Dark Social, the aim is to get yourself known.
But that doesn’t come down to posting branded content - quite the opposite.
The aim is to publish content that will have a life beyond the initial share. Something that your audience are likely to not only engage with but share externally with their peers.
Something that creates momentum.
Sometimes, the best engagement you will get will be on a comment you leave on someone else’s post.
It’s about starting conversations where your audience are.
And the more conversations you start, the more your network will grow, and the more people will get to know you and your brand.
It’s not a means to broadcast your products and services. It’s about sparking conversations and creating something that stands out.
5. Rethink your metrics
Metrics are a marketer’s best friend.
But when it comes to Dark Social, you can’t measure activity – at least, not in the traditional sense.
The key is to adapt how you measure performance.
So what metrics can you look to leverage to keep track of Dark Social activity?
It’s all about technology and insight.
URL Shorteners: Platforms like Bit.ly provide you with trackable, shortened URLs for links that can help you track shares and clicks within a certain channel.
Google Analytics: By adding a ‘Dark Social’ segment to your Google Analytics, you can find out what proportion of your traffic is attributed to the wrong source.
Social Analytics platforms: Platforms like GetSocial specialize in tracking Dark Social activity. Look to incorporate tools like this in your tech stack for enhanced visibility.
Revenue technology platforms: Companies like 6sense have developed specific solutions to help illuminate the Dark Funnel and uncover anonymous data.
Ask the source: It doesn’t have to be complicated. When you land a new customer, ask how they heard about you. You can then use this insight to help fuel your strategy later down the road. Our advice is to add “How did you hear about us?” as a mandatory form on your intent forms.
With Dark Social, you’ll never know 100% of what’s being said about your brand - and that’s ok.
But, with the right tools and insight, you can uncover a large chunk of what’s lurking in the shadows.
6. Avoid a Sales-first approach
The biggest mistake an organization can make when leveraging Dark Social is to jump in Sales-first.
Customers are hyper-tuned to this kind of approach and remember: you’re engaging them on channels where they are not there to buy - so they are not looking for you to shove your brand down their throat.
You need to have a reason to be there – and this reason is to start conversations.
Obviously, the ultimate aim is to generate revenue, but that is much farther down the line.
Dark Social is not the place for a Sales pitch.
It is, however, the place to form a community with bespoke content and human interactions.
And it won’t always be down to Marketing and Sales.
You may find that the conversations will be better received coming from your subject matter experts (SMEs).
Raising the profile of these SMEs and shining a light on their expertise can make a huge difference. They will quickly build trust with their peers and engage in a way that Sales or Marketing often cannot.
Bringing the Dark Funnel to light
With more and more social platforms entering the scene, the Dark Funnel isn’t going anywhere.
People will continue to consume content and share it privately with their peers, and you won’t always know what goes on behind ‘closed doors’.
The key is to leverage the tools and insight that you can to unleash that untapped potential.
It’s all about the long game. If you can work on your Dark Social strategy, and focus on consistency, you’ll start to see results.
And ultimately, your biggest asset in illuminating the Dark Funnel is your customers.
Talk to them, ask them questions, and find out how they heard about your brand.
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