Dark Social: Why You Can’t Afford to Ignore It In Your Marketing Strategy | Hacker Noon


Vincent Otieno Hacker Noon profile picture

Vincent Otieno

Freelance copywriter for SaaS companies.

There is a big difference between how your buyers buy your product and how you think they buy it.

According to a study by Ogilvy Cannes, 74% of consumers consider word of mouth as a key influencer when making purchasing decisions.

Buyers nowadays prefer to research, discover and learn more about solutions to their problems from peers rather than using the traditional ways that can be measured by attribution software.

And these B2B buyers can access their peers more quickly now than they could 3 to 5 years ago.

For example, as a B2B marketer, I interact with people who do my job every day on LinkedIn. I also occasionally listen to podcasts, participate in Facebook groups and Slack communities where my peers hang out.

Even though I don’t intend to buy, I’m constantly researching and setting my business priorities based on the information shared in these communities.

Most B2B companies can’t track prospects hanging out in these communities like they usually do with attribution software.

Instead, they spend time capturing demand in channels that have intent because the attribution models force them to do it that way.

Let me put it in context.

Most companies spend almost 80% of their media budget on paid search because it is the easiest to track. Your target customer searches for a solution like yours on Google, and you get a direct response.

Review sites like G2 and Capterra also take up part of your media budget because you understand the power of online reviews when prospects are trying to make purchase decisions.

Then there is intent data that gets created when your prospects use these platforms.

So, what’s happening is that marketers are waiting at the lower funnel for people who already know their problem exists and want to solve it.

Buyers come in, and you have 5 to 20 B2B companies in that category.

And they are all fighting over these buyers.

The thing is that when buyers reach this level where most marketers are waiting, they usually already have a preferred brand.

This preferred brand probably educated them through the entire process that got them to that point, or most of their peers told them that it is the best solution to buy before they entered the space.

This means that a huge portion of the B2B buying process happens in places where attribution software can’t track.

So, if you’re waiting for intent data to start marketing, you’re way too late in the buying journey.

When you see an intent signal, your prospects already know the brand they are going with, and it’s probably not you.

In this story, you will learn how to get your existing customers and prospects to evangelize your product to their peers in places where they socialize but you can’t track.

So, when these peers are ready to buy, your brand is the preferred one — you dominate your category.

What is dark social?

Dark social refers to places where your target customers hang out, discussing solutions to their problems, but there is neither tracking nor intent data.

These places include:

– Communities and groups (Slack channels, Facebook groups, etc.)

– Social Networks (LinkedIn, Reddit, etc.)

– Content platforms (Apple Podcast, Spotify, YouTube, etc.)

– Direct word of mouth (DMs, text messages, zoom calls, etc.)

– 3rd Party Events/Meetups (VC/PE groups)

Let’s use this example to demonstrate what dark social is.

Let’s say you are a demand generation marketer for a SaaS company.

You publish a post on LinkedIn that shows how your prospects (CMOs) can solve their problem using your product.

Your post is so compelling that a CMO decides to share it in their company’s marketing Slack channel or senior leadership Slack channel.

So, you are producing content, and your target customers find it so valuable that they decide to share it in places where their peers socialize.

They try to convince people to use your product without you even asking, and all this stuff is not getting measured by attribution software.

When you impact your buyers early, you’re likely to be the preferred brand when they are ready to buy.

Why dark social is important if you want to grow your SaaS

By now, you know that most of the B2B buyer’s journey happens before the buyer visits the vendor’s website or speaks with the vendor.

The earlier these B2B buyers can know and trust your brand during their buying journey, the higher your chances of being the preferred brand when they are ready to buy.

Here are some of the reasons why you should prioritize investing in dark social if you want to grow your SaaS:

Buying process

To drive buying processes in 2022, you should focus on giving so valuable information such that it triggers people to go into those channels where they hang out and ask if anyone has ever interacted with your brand.

Whether it’s LinkedIn, Slack, or Facebook groups, these people go into these communities and ask, “Hey, have you ever heard of this guy or this company before?”

Then your customers in those channels respond by saying they love using your product because it has changed their lives by bringing positive outcomes.

When prospects learn about your product when they don’t have intent, they may consider your brand when they are ready to buy.

Create demand for your product

Dark social helps you create demand by shifting your mindset to leverage content to take advantage of word of mouth.

You start finding ways to put information in a channel such that it makes someone ask their peers about your company and product.

So, instead of prioritizing creating blogs and those other fancy stuff, focus on how you can get people to evangelize your company in places where you can’t track.

Dominate your category

Because dark social is where the majority of the buying process takes place, you can dominate your category by creating demand for your product in such places.

By the time your prospects are ready to buy, you are their preferred solution because either you educated them in these channels or their peers advocated for your brand based on their experience trying your product.

So, when other brands in your vertical are fighting for these prospects at the lower marketing funnels, they already see you as the category leader.

How to generate demand for your product using dark social

If you want to generate demand using dark social, you need a different measurement model and mindset and use different channels.

Generating demand is about educating prospective buyers about what is happening in your category and why they should prioritize your product in their business.

You want to show your prospects how the problem your product solves is critical to the success of their business so they can prioritize solving it.

So, when they move into intent channels to convert, they already perceive your product as the best solution for their problem.

When you are not doing this as a business, your competitor is probably out there, creating an early impact on your prospects and becoming their preferred solution.

Most marketers aren’t creating demand right now. Instead, they are waiting in intent channels for people to find them, like spending most of their money on Google Search.

Someone may be out there teaching their prospects what they need to know to consider buying their product.

It could be a different vendor, or they could be hearing stuff through word of mouth, or they happened to notice a problem inside their business and started looking for a solution.

But if you want to position your company to accelerate growth and win categories, you need to control how many buyers are entering the buying cycle at any point.

If you’re the person who educates prospects when they have no intent, their odds of choosing you when they are ready to buy goes through the roof.

So, you have more people who think that you are the category leader, and when they are entering the buyer cycle, they are coming for your product.

That is how you get accelerated growth motion.

#1 Create product-led stories to supercharge word of mouth

Product-led stories are long-form blog posts and other pieces of content that show how your prospects can solve their problem using your product such that by the time they are done consuming it, they convert into users.

It involves identifying a problem that your product solves and the ideal customer personas (ICPs) who may use your product. Then you create a story that puts one of your ICPs in a situation where they can use your product to solve their problem — contextual marketing.

When a reader who fits that ICP reads the story, they are more likely to convert into your customer because they believe your product is the best solution for them.

Let’s say you sell email marketing software to B2B buyers, and one of your ICPs is freelance writers who use cold emailing to grow their business.

One of the problems freelance writers have when sending cold emails is the need to personalize the first line of the email to increase open and response rates.

How can they send as many personalized cold emails as possible within a short period?

If your product solves this problem, you can create an in-depth story showing how these freelance writers can use your product to craft and send as many personalized emails as possible within a short time.

#2 Share those product-led stories in places where your buyers hang out.

Once you’ve invested your time and resources to craft a compelling story showing how your ICPs can solve their problems using your product, share it in places where they socialize.

Your goal when creating a product-led story is never for it to go viral.

Instead, it should be to get it read by the right people who will eventually take your desired action of becoming a user or share it with their peers who also need your product.

Ross Simmonds says that you only create content once, but you can distribute it forever.

Distribute your content in places where you know people can get their hands on it and tell their peers about it where you can’t track.

Why marketers don’t want to move to dark social

Marketers don’t want to move to dark social because dark social channels are difficult to measure.

These marketers from the 2010 era are obsessed with marketing automation, stuck in attribution models, and over-relying on technology.

They still consider their main job to be collecting contact information, yet they are getting farther away from their potential customers.

So their sales teams talk to people who are not ready to buy now — the MQLs.

Enter 2021 marketing.

Marketers of this era know that they are not going to rely on tech to acquire users because it is incredibly limiting.

Instead, they’ve decided that they are going to be in places where their prospects are. And invest time and resources in learning their prospects such that they become peers to them. Then they provide expertise in the form of product-led content so that these prospects perceive them as category leaders even before they intend to buy.

Stop being a data-driven marketer and start engaging with your buyers in places that you cannot track because it is there where the most critical touchpoints in the B2B buyer’s journey happen.

How to measure attribution for dark social

Attribution is the process by which marketers know how a customer came to learn about their company or product — the touchpoints along the buying journey.

The goal of measuring attribution is to determine which channels or messages had the most significant impact in convincing a prospect to buy your product.

These insights enable your marketing team to alter and customize their campaigns to acquire more customers.

Most attribution software only measure the visible touchpoints in the buying journey, limiting because most of the buying process happens before the prospect intends to buy.

Since the most critical touchpoints in dark social cannot be measured using attribution software, here are the ways you can measure them:

1. How did you hear about us form

Putting a “how did you hear about us” free response field in your demo request form shows you where your customers first heard about you vs. what your attribution software claims.

You may realize they first heard about your company in an ad while listening to a marketing podcast then decided to look you up. Or they heard about you in a particular slack group.

2. Win analysis

When you finally close an account, call the main point of contact and understand their buying journey. You may get in-depth information compared to what your customers may reveal in the how-did-you-hear-about-us form.

3. Large scale market research surveys

Here you want to understand how your customers discover your brand, how they want to buy, and where they spend time.

You can do these surveys after an interval like six months after they become your customers.

For example, they may say they first heard about you on a social network like LinkedIn for marketers.

Final thoughts

Dark social refers to where your prospects and their peers hang out, discussing solutions to their problems, where attribution software cannot track intent data.

Most parts of the buying journey happen in the dark social such that by the time the prospects show intent, they already have a preferred brand based on what their peers told them.

If you want to generate demand for your product and dominate your category, then you cannot afford to ignore dark social.

You should invest in creating content that someone finds so valuable that they share about your brand with their peers in places you can’t track.