Why “Dark Social” Means Tomorrow’s B2B Might Look Like Today’s B2C

Why “Dark Social” Means Tomorrow’s B2B Might Look Like Today’s B2C

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B2B marketing is changing, and B2B marketers need to be ready to change with it. 

This isn’t to say that how we’ve done things before isn’t still effective. You’re still going to need ways to generate leads and capture interest in your brand when people come searching for B2B solutions like yours. 

But that can’t be all you’re doing. 

There are a number of reasons for this, but in this blog, we’re going to talk about one of the most important concepts that B2B marketers should be focusing on – and why it means that your next B2B campaigns might look a little more like your previous B2C campaigns than you’d anticipated. 

Let’s talk about “dark social.” 

In this blog, we’ll look at the future of B2B marketing, and why dark social is going to be a key element to harness. We’ll discuss:

  • What dark social actually is
  • Why dark social is relevant to B2B marketers 
  • How to take advantage of dark social for your B2B campaigns
  • How to assess the impact of your dark social media marketing

So, let’s get started with the question you’re probably already wanting to ask: What the heck is dark social, anyway?

What Does “Dark Social” Mean? Is It Like the Dark Web?

The name “dark social” evokes similarities to “dark web,” and when people think about the dark web, most of us associate that term with the dregs and shady underbelly of the internet, where illicit online drug deals are perhaps the best thing that one can hope to come across.

Indeed, the two names do share a common origin – but that doesn’t mean that dark social is a crime-ridden cesspool. Heck, the dark web isn’t necessarily a crime-ridden cesspool, either. (It often is, but that’s besides the point).

The term “dark” in “dark web” refers to the fact that these sites are simply not accessible to search engines. Google or Bing don’t crawl these pages, which means that there’s no way to accidentally stumble across them as part of a normal search engine query, no matter how many pages you go back. The only way to access these pages is by following a link or manually typing in the web address. 

Think of Google and Bing and other search engines like sunlight – if the sunlight can reach your website, it’s not dark.

Now, it’s pretty easy to understand why less-than-savory types would want to stay out of Google’s sunlight. If your web business is TotallyLegalFirearmsandCocaineSoldAcrossStateLines-dot-com, you don’t want law enforcement to just stumble across your page via search engines. 

But there are plenty of reasons why you would want to avoid search engines crawling your pages, whether permanent or temporary. If you’re working on a website for a product or service that hasn’t launched yet, you don’t want Google giving away the game to your competitors. Or perhaps you have some pages that would break links or other aspects of your site if removed, but the content on them is outdated or no longer relevant, so you quietly remove them from your page navigation and search engine crawlers. 

So, at the end of the day, that’s all that “dark web” means – it doesn’t mean anything nefarious, it just means that these sites are beyond the reach of Google and Bing and other search engines.

Dark social is more or less the exact same thing.

Okay, So… What Is Dark Social?

By default, Facebook profiles are public – you can find them via search engines. You can find LinkedIn posts, YouTube videos, Reddit threads, Twitter posts (sorry Elon, still not calling it “X”) and more, all from your handy Google search bar. These social sites are public and indexable by search engines like Google, which means they’re normal social media.

“Dark social” refers to all of the social interactions that happen far outside Google’s index. This can be company message boards, internal Slack channels and DMs, Discord servers, private messenger services, emails, and everything else that makes up the “digital water cooler” of discussion. Heck, it doesn’t have to be a digital water cooler at all. Conversations at a physical water cooler count as dark social too, as do other types of in-person conversations, whether at trade shows or in the physical workplace.

In other words, a social media ad is when you place an ad on Facebook and someone clicks on it. A dark social media “ad” is when someone tells a coworker in a Slack channel that they’ve heard of this brand and that they think the coworker should check it out.

The term “dark social” is older than you might think. It was coined in a 2012 article by Alexis Madrigal published in the Atlantic, where the writer talked about how the history of the internet wasn’t being properly documented, since it was missing things like ICQ chats and USENET forums. 

Dark social is, by its very nature, difficult to quantify and analyze. It’s not helped by browsers sometimes mistakenly classifying organic traffic as direct traffic, as one study showed. But this dark social traffic exists and makes up a massive portion of all traffic around the web. 

So, let’s sum this all up. What is dark social?

Dark social is all interactions in social channels that aren’t tracked or indexed by major search engines, like in-person conversations, DMs and private work channels through apps like Slack and Discord, internal forums and message boards, email exchanges, and more. 

Okay, so now we know what dark social is. But why is dark social important to B2B marketing?

Why Dark Social Matters to B2B Marketers

To put this simply, the reason that dark social matters is why demand gen marketing is taking over from lead gen marketing as the primary paradigm for digital marketing businesses, especially B2B ones. 

Traditional digital marketing techniques, like SEO-driven content and data-driven ads on search engines and other websites, are important. But here’s the catch: These methods, effective though they might be, only work when someone is searching for what you offer. 

This doesn’t mean they know you, or your brand, or even that the sort of solution you offer is a thing that exists. But they know that they have a problem, and they’re actively seeking to address it. 

Let’s use an example, shall we? 

A Tale of Two Businesses

Imagine we have two businesses: One, owned by Patrick, is a construction company. The other, owned by Leigh, is a SaaS app that helps construction companies (like Patrick’s) keep track of their tools and make sure things don’t get misplaced or stolen either on job sites or in transit from storage to job site and vice versa.

Patrick, it would seem, is Leigh’s natural customer. Her app is designed to help businesses just like his to save money and avoid costly delays.

Indeed, were Patrick to search “tool tracking app,” he’d come across blogs that Leigh’s marketing team had written about the importance of using such a solution. He’d see paid SEM ads leading him to custom-built landing pages that were designed to drive conversions, get him to sign up for a demo, and turn him into a paying customer. 

But Patrick isn’t there yet. Patrick isn’t looking for tool tracking apps. Patrick might not even realize that apps tailor-made specifically to keep track of his business’ tools and equipment exist.

Perhaps right now, Patrick is looking at his books and fretting about the amount of red ink he’s seeing. Heck, perhaps Patrick has realized that a big portion of extra budget is going to replacement tools and costly delays, he’s just decided to invest in something like extra security for his warehouse (which might help with thefts, but not accidental misplacements or losses). 

Either way, the fact remains: Patrick’s construction business is an ideal customer for Leigh’s SaaS business, but until he starts doing the research into ways to keep his business’ equipment secure and well-tracked, Leigh won’t ever get Patrick as a customer. 

The problem is that Leigh is currently investing all of her marketing efforts into lead generation – capturing demand that already exists. Leigh should, instead, be investing in demand generation. And that means reaching Patrick (or his executive team) where he is to convince him that not only does he have a fixable problem, he has a problem her software can fix. 

It’s estimated that lead-generation marketing gets, at most, 5% of a business’ potential customer base. For every B2B buyer already invested and doing their research, there are ten, twenty, or a hundred more who aren’t even starting to search – and that’s why dark social is a powerful tool for B2B marketing.

Ready to Illuminate Your Marketing Strategy with Dark Social

Dark Social Is an Indispensable Demand Generation Tool

Until Patrick knows that tool-tracking apps are a thing and is convinced that he should look into them for his business, all of the effort Leigh put into lead generation won’t help convert him into her customer.

But what if Leigh took a different approach? 

What if her marketing team evaluated top podcasts listened to by executives in the construction industry, and arranged an interview with one of Leigh’s project leads, who explained the benefit of a tool-tracker app and how it can reduce budget excesses and work slowdowns. Or targeted YouTube ads about this topic in front of viewers who watched the channel of the aforementioned podcast?

Now, imagine that one of Patrick’s executives loves listening to this podcast on her drive to work. She hears the interview and makes the connection with the budget obstacles they’ve been facing. That morning, she opens a conversation with Patrick in their workplace Slack and lets him know about this interesting app she’d heard about and how it could be a solution to their jobsite woes. 

Patrick goes to his search engine of choice and searches for “tool tracking app.” Leigh’s lead generation marketing (that is, demand capture) does the rest of the work. 

This is why dark social is such a critical element of all marketing, but especially B2B marketing that looks to focus on demand generation – because this is how people organically learn about new products and even entire new industries. 

If you’re a key decision-maker at a major enterprise, you don’t turn to Google to ask about your problems, you turn to your trusted staff and colleagues. And being at the top-of-mind for these colleagues means your business gets brought up in conversations on dark social. 

Therefore, it’s vitally important that B2B marketers looking to generate demand not neglect this key element of how you can organically grow your customer base. 

But wait, I hear you telling yourself – doesn’t this sound a lot like B2C marketing? 

As a matter of fact, yes it does.

Why the B2B Marketing of Tomorrow Could Look Like the B2C Marketing of Today

YouTube pre-roll ads, display ads, social media ads based on things like hobbies and other interests… these are all some of the key tools in a B2C marketer’s toolbox. If your business sells accessories for tabletop games, you’re probably targeting me, a self-admitted dice goblin.

Marketers do these tactics for consumer marketing because they work. Regular touchpoints, interest-based advertising, display ads on key hobbyist or enthusiast websites – these are all how you reach critical mass of driving interest before a consumer is ready to purchase. 

But here’s the thing: Even if you’re a B2B brand rather than a B2C one, you’re not selling to businesses. 

“Businesses” don’t buy things or sign up for services.

People do. 

Okay, yes, they’re people who are making purchasing decisions on behalf of a business, but the principle is the same thing! You need to meet these individuals where they are. 

Because of how dark social interactions work, you need to be having regular touchpoints with these individuals through podcasts, videos, and yes, maybe that means being active with TikTok videos or Tweets (X’s? See, Elon, this is why it was a bad idea) that can go viral. 

Let me put it in another way: If your business isn’t regularly touching base with stakeholders and decision-makers in organic channels, one of your competitors might be. And you don’t want that. 

How Can You Measure Dark Social Campaigns?

As Hamlet once said (probably as he was struggling with his digital marketing analytics or something): Aye, there’s the rub. 

The very nature of these conversations means that they’re difficult to track and assess. How do you tell the difference between a highly successful dark social demand-generation campaign and a waste of your money? When someone types TrackMyTools-dot-com into their URL bar, how can Leigh tell it’s a conversion from her dark social demand-gen marketing or her mom trying to look at her daughter’s business as a proud parent? 

Well, it’s tricky. But “tricky” doesn’t mean “impossible.” There are definitely some ways you can track your dark social campaigns. 

Far and away the best way of tracking dark social is to ask prospects how they heard about you when they fill out a request for a demo or meeting. However, that’s not the only way to measure dark social performance. We’ve written about those in our guide to dark social, found here: [Link to blog when it publishes].

If You’re a B2B Brand, You Need to Be Harnessing Dark Social

To sum up – dark social is all social interactions, online and offline, that aren’t tracked or indexed by major search engines. And in the current B2B environment, where lead-gen marketing is leaving 95% of your customers (or more!) on the table, it’s not something that you can afford to neglect.

You need to have regular touchpoints with B2B buyers and decision-makers, which means meeting them where they already are: On podcasts, on social media (the normal kind, not the dark kind), on YouTube, and on the sites they browse.

This will ensure that your brand is at the top of their mind for when their boss identifies a problem and asks for solutions – and that’s how you get mentioned and stand a high chance at getting a new customer.

Interested in working with a proven demand generation marketing agency that knows how to harness the power of dark social? It’s time to give SevenAtoms a call.

Ready to Illuminate Your Marketing Strategy with Dark Social

Author Bio

John Funk

John Funk

John Funk is a veteran copywriter, editor, and digital marketer. With a background in online journalism and a passion for fantasy and Dungeons & Dragons, he works to craft compelling narratives and content you enjoy reading.

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