Dark Social: What It Is, How to Track It, and Why It Matters for B2B

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why dark social matters for B2B marketers

There’s an intense push-and-pull going on in B2B marketing right now. 

On the one hand, marketers are being pushed toward measurement and metrics. Analytics have become a part of nearly every marketing conversation—sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. 

On the other hand, the B2B customer journey has grown more messy, complex, and difficult to track. A major reason for this is that a growing number of purchasing decisions are being made and discussed on dark social—private LinkedIn messages, Slack channels, and closed online communities. 

Touchpoints are happening all the time in these closed channels, but brands have no way of measuring them. So, given that a lot of the customer journey has become unmeasurable, how should B2B brands proceed? 

The answer (at least, part of the answer) is to focus on three things: increasing your share of voice, using the tools you do have at your disposal to make the most of dark social, and tracking the right metrics. 

Let’s take a closer look. 

Why does share of voice matter? 

Share of voice is the percentage of conversation your brand owns in the market. It can also refer to the amount of advertising your brand has compared to the total amount of advertising in your industry, rendered as a percentage.

Think of this in terms of a major brand, like Kleenex. If you were a B2B buyer in charge of purchasing paper products for all your brand’s offices, Kleenex is probably the first brand that would come to mind. That’s because their advertising is everywhere, so their share of voice dwarfs that of their competitors. 

That doesn’t mean you would absolutely make your purchase with Kleenex—it would be dependent on other things like pricing, timeline, etc.—but Kleenex would certainly be present in your mind throughout your decision process, and likely for any and all future paper product purchasing decisions you had to make for your brand. 

Brands that have a huge share of voice also have an ongoing presence in buyers’ minds. Think of your brain as a phone: the brands with a huge share of voice are like those apps running in the background, always on, and always easy to access. 

Increasing your share of voice requires regularly putting out great content, implementing PR campaigns to boost your reputation and backlinks, creating paid ads to bring people to your best content, and participating in thought leadership opportunities as much as possible. 

As your share of voice goes up, you’ll reap a number of benefits, including: 

  • A boost in reputation and brand trust
  • SEO improvements, including an increase in the number of backlinks your brand has
  • A larger share of your market

How to make the most of dark social sharing

Now that we’ve established how critical share of voice is to succeeding in the B2B space these days, let’s look at how you can make the most of all the dark social sharing and discussions that are happening around your brand. 

After all, it’s growth in your share of voice that will impact the number of dark social mentions and amount of activity that your brand experiences (even though you won’t be able to see it). 

As the term “dark social” implies, these are conversations that really cannot be easily tracked. But there are certain things you can do to get at least some information: 

  • Use link shorteners, like bit.ly, because these allow you to track those links across the internet.
  • Emphasize your social sharing buttons by making them easy to find on your website and on each piece of owned content (blog posts, articles, etc.). Sharing via these buttons is trackable, so you want to make it as easy as possible to do so. 
  • Add UTM codes to specific links you want to track. These codes make it easier for Google to track those links. 
  • Use dark social tracking tools, like GetSocial, Po.St, and AddThis. 

Track the metrics that matter, not just the ones that are easy. 

The thing with having analytics for everything is that it can be hard to discern which metrics really matter, and which are simply…trackable. 

As Zen’s founder and CEO Shama Hyder says in the Modern Marketing Blog, “just because something is measurable and efficient doesn’t mean it’s meaningful and effective.” 

A perfect example? Click-through rate (CTR). A high click-through rate by no means indicates a similarly high level of meaningful engagement, but it’s incredibly easy to measure, and a high one can make a campaign look good when presented strategically. 

Related reading: Why Click-Through Rate Doesn’t Matter, and the KPIs Brand Marketers Should Actually Care About

But there are many other, less obvious metrics that mean a lot more when looked at as part of an entire picture. 

For example, you could track your growth in share of voice over time and see whether that matches up to an increase in newsletter signups or demo requests. 

You can track social media engagements in relation to specific PR campaigns or product launch. Better yet, you can look at all these numbers and put them together to create a larger picture of how your brand is doing in the marketplace. 

Finally, to boost both your “regular” and dark social engagement, get better at anticipating what your prospects and customers want from you. 

Because your prospects want the information they want when they want it, it’s up to your marketing team to anticipate those desires. 

Start by conducting a content audit. Where are your content offerings lacking? Do you have lots of content for the top of the funnel but hardly any for the bottom? Are you targeting a couple personas with your blog posts but overlooking others? 

A thorough content audit can give you a baseline for where you are right now, which will help you decide where you need to improve. 

What questions do your customers and prospects come to your sales team with the most often? What are their pain points? This is information you need to know if you’re going to give them content that converts. 

The most reliable way to do this is to ask your prospects and customers directly through surveys or on sales calls (the data you get this way is called zero-party data). 

Your goal should always be to create something valuable enough for your customers that they want to share it in their private channels. 

Dark social is intricately related to your share of voice, and it’s where a lot of the B2B buyer journey is happening. By creating great content, increasing your share of voice, and focusing on the right metrics, you’ll be able to turn dark social into a valuable tool rather than a frustrating unknown. 

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