Marketers today depend on social media’s vast public buzz to fuel our market research, customer connections, and sentiment analysis, to name only a few applications. Every day we hear of a product, a movie, or even a person that rises or falls based on buzz alone.
But most content transmitted by consumers never hits our dashboards. Research shows that as much as 70 percent of social sharing is unknown to us. It’s in this hazy but important realm called “dark social media” — the vast majority of content sharing you’ll never see because it’s occurring through email, direct messages, texting, and other private communication channels. Between dark social and the social media activity we can easily measure, there is a third category that is rich in undiscovered marketing opportunity — gray social. These are the small, still voices who are clearly telling us they’re there, but we’re not tuned
to detect their quiet signals and capture the data. I would argue that a healthy proportion of dark social is actually “gray.” We just miss it because we’re not sure how to look for it.
This presents a real problem for marketers. Getting content to move through a loyal audience is critical to business success. A study commissioned by Google shows that your most loyal audience is more than 250 percent more likely to transmit your content and 200 percent more likely to make purchases from your company. These engaged customers don’t just buy your products again and again. They encourage others to do it, too. We urgently need to find more of those people for our businesses, but if most of this powerful audience lurks in the shadows, how do we know they’re there?
Today, our social media listening platforms are optimized to give us broad trends, patterns, and large-scale shifts in sentiment. They are not necessarily highlighting the individuals embracing our brands online.
With a bit of small-signal sleuthing you might discover a whole new category of passionate customers. Consider:
- Somebody I didn’t know left me an endorsement for “digital marketing” on LinkedIn. This might be the one and only time I hear from him, his lone small signal to me that he’s a fan. What if I could determine that in fact this was no idle act — this person only gives out two endorsements per year. Wouldn’t that be meaningful to know?
- What if someone among your brand’s followers only tweets a few times a month. Her level of tweeting is so obscure that she is merely a “mention” that is invisible on the social analytics radar. But what if I could determine that 25 percent of her tweets were about your company? Isn’t that a “gray signal” that this person cares about my content in an extraordinary way?
- A friend in Singapore noticed small, consistent traffic coming to his website from a single source month after month. By doing some sleuthing, he was able to determine that this was a company constantly sharing his company’s content on an internal collaboration application. After he made a personal contact through LinkedIn, a meaningful business relationship was formed.
The people in the gray area are raising their hands, telling us they love us, asking us to market to them. The signals from this vast, silent majority are beaming to us all the time, but we’re missing them because there’s no off-the-shelf process to track, quantify, and develop these subtle leads.
How do we measure the relative importance of gray? Certainly CRM and automated marketing software systems are evolving in a way that can help us begin to discover these quiet voices, but there are a lot of conditions. A person would have to show themselves as a subscriber to our site or newsletter before we can set an algorithmic “magnet” that will help us collect other small signals that can bring dark fans into the light.
Clearly, to discover and nurture your raving gray social media fans, you’ll have to invest time in analytics beyond common dashboards. Gray social media exists inversely proportional to the capabilities of your monitoring and metrics systems. The more resources you’ve devoted to stringent monitoring, the less people will be in the gray category.
Because of the granularity of the data, there is probably no “cookie-cutter” solution that will fit every business. There are, however, steps you can take to begin the process of gray discovery.
- Spend some time looking behind the dashboards at raw conversations. Are there certain keywords or phrases that might indicate brand love and loyalty?
- If you have a person devoted to analytics in your business, challenge them to look at the data in a new way. If somebody was expressing devotion through consistent sharing of content, inviting others to your site, and words of loyalty, how would you find them? Can you codify this process?
- Re-visit reports to look for patterns instead of trends and averages.
- Once you start identifying small signals of loyalty, what do you do with that information? How can you recognize and reward those people? Encourage more engagement? Celebrate them and make them the centerpiece of your story?
The elite customers out there sharing your content are the bedrock of your business. It’s time to welcome them in from the shadows.