If social media has become a standard part of one’s marketing mix, the playing field has shifted, many of the rules have changed and communication strategies must be adapted to be effective. In this piece, we will look at one key area of social media that is often left out of discussions with agencies and the 3 things that every entrepreneur needs to be doing about it.

How different is social media marketing today?

It’s old news now that social media is a pay-to-play game. One of the real eye-openers that came out conclusively from Marketing Profs B2B conference is that inbound marketing will be a pay-to-play game from now on. Mark Schaefer posted, following a fireside between Mitch Joel (President of Mirum) and Dharmesh Shah (founder and CTO of Hubspot): “It used to be about content and engagement, but it’s more complicated now. Content marketing has a cover charge.” As Mark puts it, Content Shock has won out. Another related issue is that a lot of people are taking umbrage behind the garden walls of “dark social” media.

In fact, the dirty little secret is that the vast majority of what’s happening on social media is not visible as it’s happening via dark social, such as email, native mobile apps, text and instant messaging. As reported in a 2016 study by RadiumOne, “Dark Social channels made up 82% of site-originated mobile shares and 67% of mobile clickbacks worldwide.” The power of dark social is that the message between the parties is more often intentional and, if it includes a link, is far more likely to convert into a click through than a generic message or post on an open social media site (such as Twitter, Facebook or Linkedin). Dark social is also particularly relevant for the older demographic, since according to RadiumOne research, nearly half of those aged 55 and older share only via dark social, versus 19% for the 16-34 age group. (Source: Hootsuite).

As companies and brands scavenge to find ways to leverage social media – including investing more and more in inbound marketing – the challenge will be to (a) stand out from the crowd (while keeping your integrity); (b) figuring out what and why any content is working; (c) never sitting on one’s laurels as it’s an ever-evolving playing field.

What’s an entrepreneur to do about it?

In light of this dark world and the higher stakes for inbound marketing, there are three things an entrepreneur needs to focus on.

1/ As dark social is often more intentional, the value and functionality of the content your brand is sharing must be optimized. The sine qua non is developing a superior content strategy. This involves figuring out not just what content for which channel, but developing a strategy that has depth and coherence throughout the funnel. Part of the new mindset in content creation must include three key elements, which are listed as the three Vs:

  1. Great Visual (and video) content.
  2. High Velocity that encourages quick turnarounds, greater experimentation.
  3. Finally, Veracity – as in transparency and genuine authenticity.

Investing in social media must be strategic and it’s important to tailor the social tactics to fit with the overall brand strategy. As such, it’s key to consider why and how social will help drive your brand’s strategic intent and to understand its role throughout the sales & marketing funnel.

2/ As part of the distribution strategy, penetrating into the dark social channels will require some smart influencer marketing. Over the last few years, marketers have been scrambling to boost their influencer marketing, but the old-fashioned mindset of using it as just another channel has started to creep into marketing plans. This is a big mistake. Influencers come in all shapes and sizes, with different verticals and very different prerogatives. Shoving automated content at influencers and trying to “scale” influencer marketing is a shortsighted approach. Influencer marketing requires the development of genuine relationships and a considered value exchange for all parties, including the end customer, of course. Getting through to the dark social requires building up trust equity, starting with the influencers themselves.

3/ Tracking of the burgeoning dark social conversations must also be addressed. If the “dark” component may be intentionally obscure, there are ways to track dark social sharing with such services as Po.st (RadiumOne) or ShareThis. Otherwise, there are ways to encourage trackable sharing, by making sure the content on your site has easy-to-use dark social buttons (e.g. for email, Whatsapp…) and strong brand recognition. In the end of the day, the true currency in dark social is good shareable content.

Bottom line, dark social is happening at scale, albeit differently according to the sector. Automated marketing solutions are unlikely to help to penetrate those circles unless the content is done with a heightened degree of empathic intelligence, ongoing creativity and an obsession for providing value for the receiver.

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