The Hello Bar is a simple notification bar that engages users and communicates a call to action.

Dark Social

Think about this for a moment.

When you’re browsing through your Twitter feed, you’ll likely see a ton of links. How many do you click? Maybe one or two out of hundreds, right?

Now, think about emails you receive from friends and associates. These aren’t marketing emails. Not emails you receive because you subscribed to a list. But emails a friend took time to send you.

If a friend emails you a link, how likely are you to click it?

My guess is that you’re pretty much certain to click.

Am I right?

Then maybe it’s time you joined the dark side…

What is Dark Social?

Let’s say you’re a typical website or blog.

If that’s the case, then a serious chunk of your traffic comes because people like something they’ve seen or read on your site, and they share it with their pals.

That’s social sharing. It’s what this blog is all about.

A lot of social sharing happens on Twitter, Facebook and other social media websites. When people find your blog or website through social media, you can track where they came from. As such, you can see how much traffic Twitter and Facebook send your way.

But social sharing is only the tip of the iceberg.

The majority of sharing is dark social sharing.

Dark social happens whenever you share a link with a friend via email, or using an instant messaging service such as Skype or Google Talk.

This kind of sharing is difficult to track. Yet by some estimates, it accounts for 72% of social shares.

What does all this mean for your social strategy?

How to Make the Most of Dark Social

Dark social sharing is actually older than social sharing. Sharing happened via email and instant messaging before any social networks were even conceived. It’s a practice that’s here to stay, so it’s vital that you incorporate it into your social media strategy.

According to the digital intelligence department at PriceWaterhouseCoopers, only about 10% of brands are paying attention to dark social at the moment. So by jumping on board now, you’re ahead of the game.

Here are our top tips to make the most of dark social.

Add “Share via Email” to Your Sharing Options

People are using email to share, so encourage it! Make it as easy as possible for readers to share your content.

WordPress plugins such as AddToAny can be installed to your site with just a few clicks, and at no cost. These plug-ins add email sharing on all your blog posts and pages.

Create Freaking Awesome Content

Yes, we’ve been preaching this sermon for years now. There is no way to “game” social media. There are no special secrets.

The best way to encouraging sharing is to create freaking awesome content that people can’t wait to share with their friends.

Alexis Madrigal, the deputy editor of The Atlantic who coined the phrase “dark social” put it this way:

The only real way to optimize for social spread is in the nature of the content itself. There’s no way to game email or people’s instant messages. There’s no power users you can contact. There’s no algorithms to understand. This is pure social, uncut.

(We disagree on the power users part, but more on that in a moment).

On the flip-side, if your content sucks, then whatever social strategy you employ to promote it will fail.

Of course, none of us can create a viral hit every day. But you can pour your heart and soul into everything you create.

Get Smart With Your Tracking

Dark social doesn’t have to remain dark – at least not to you.

There are tools you can use to shine a light on dark social, to give you a better picture of where your traffic is coming from.

Some dark social traffic is a result of people using third party apps, such as TweetDeck, to click social media links. You can configure Google Analytics to pick up this traffic for you. They’ve created a handy tutorial on how to do so over at Social Media Examiner.

You can also get a picture of how much traffic is coming through dark social by looking at direct traffic as a referral source.

When people click a link they’ve received via email, they’re likely to get bundled in with direct traffic. Any long URLs in direct traffic are likely to be the result of dark social sharing – because it’s unlikely that people actually typed those links into an address bar.

As Ginny Soskey of Hubspot explains:

If you see long, complicated URLs […] in your direct traffic that is most likely dark social.

Start Sharing via Email (Especially with Influencers)

When you create content that you want to go viral, be bold and share it via email. In particular, target influencers who you know would be interested in what you’ve created.

Why do this? Because dark social sharing works. As we’ve established, you’re much more likely to take an interest in a link you receive via email than in something that pops up in your Twitter feed.

When something’s in your inbox, you have to deal with it. When it’s in your Twitter feed, you can just wait for it to pass by.

Want to find out who the influencers are in your field? Then check out our Google Ripples tutorial.

Whatever You Do, DON’T Try to Block Email Sharing

One of the worst pieces of advice we’ve read online about dark social is to “try disabling” email sharing. The theory is that if you block email sharing, people will share through other channels.

How it would even be possible to block email sharing, we don’t know. But even so, it’s terrible advice. People who share via email want to share via email. So if you take away that option, they’ll just stop sharing.

Over to You

Do you have any other ideas for making the most of Dark Social? Let us know in the comments section, below.

Facebook for Small Businesses

Facebook provides a huge wealth of opportunities for small business owners – so long as you know how to use it.

Once you’ve done the basics – created a page and built a fan base – what else can you do on Facebook to improve your business?

Here are four ideas to get you started…

1. Hook Up with Other Business Owners

Facebook is a networking tool so it’s ideal for meeting new people – as long as you know where to look.

Facebook is becoming an increasingly popular place for business owners to network with one another.

You can use Facebook groups to meet up with other entrepreneurs, share business ideas, and promote your business.

How can you find the right groups for you? Three ways:

  1. Use Facebook’s search. Use a simple search such as “business networking”, the name of your industry, or simply the name of the city where your business is located. You’ll find a ton of options to get started.
  2. Join email lists of entrepreneurs. Two of the best groups I’m part I was only invited to because I joined an email list.
  3. Create your own group. Invite your entrepreneurial friends to be part of it, and get them to invite their business networks. The advantage of your own group is that you’ll already have a connection with many of the members – so trust comes as standard.

2. Reach a New Customer Base

Are all your customers in their 50s and 60s? Do you want to reach out to a younger audience?

Some 84% of Americans under 30 are on Facebook. And 79% of Americans under 50 use the network (that compares to just 45% of over 65s). Stats here.

What’s more, the average American spends 40 minutes a day on Facebook.

In other words, Facebook is where younger people spend their time. If you want to reach out to under 50s, it’s the place to be.

3. Low-Cost Recruitment

Finding good quality staff members for your business can be a huge drain on your time and money.

You want to find people with the right skillset, attitude, and who care about your business.

Once you’ve built up a following on Facebook, then recruiting can be way simpler. Just share your job opportunity with your Facebook fans. They’re people who are passionate about your brand, so they’re already half way to being a good fit.

4. Test New Business Ideas

Start-up businesses typically look for customers before they build a product, or at a very early stage of product development.

Why? Because without customers, you don’t have a business. On the other hand, if you can find customers who want what you’re planning to create, you know you’re good to go. And once you’ve created it, they can provide valuable feedback.

Want to test the waters of a business idea? Set up a Facebook page for the business, and see if it proves popular. If your product is a hit thanks to Facebook marketing alone, then you know you’re onto a winner.

Gamifcation Social Media

Life’s better when it’s fun. The same is true of business. And social media.

And few things are more fun than playing a game.

Business across the web have latched onto this and have started using games (or game-style interfaces) to keep us engaged. This is gamification, and it’s here to stay.

Duolingo uses gamification to help people learn a second language.

The Khan Academy makes learning math into a game.

And codecademy has done the same for learning code.

All three of these has proved hugely successful.

In a moment, we’ll consider how you can use gamification as part of your social media strategy. But first, let’s look at what’s special about gamification…

Here’s Why Gamification Works…

Have you ever played a computer game? Successful games have three key components.

1. Games Tell a Story

Stories are how humans (that’s you and me) make sense of the world. We all want to be part of a story, and games offer us the change to do that.

Stories don’t have to make a whole lot of sense. Super Mario, for example, is all about an Italian plumber whose mission is to rescue a princess from the clutches of a giant turtle. Weird, if you think about it. What matters is that the story captures our imagination.

The most significant aspects of stories is that they follow a journey and along the journey there are obstacles.

The leads us to the second component of computer games…

2. Games Set Challenges

Games follow a story, and stories have obstacles.

That’s why, in any good game, you’ll find obstacles in your path.

In a sports game, the obstacle is the opposing team. In a fighting game, it’s your adversary. In an action game, it’s the bad guys you come across.

In some games, the challenges are a set of mini-missions or tasks you must complete.

In Duolingo? The obstacles are the words and phrases you’ve let to learn.

Games draw players in because the obstacles get gradually harder. Each new obstacle should test and slightly extend your current skill level.

So it makes sense that learning can be turned into a game.

As your skill level develops, you’ll want to take advantage of the fact that…

3. Games Track Your Progress

Each obstacle you overcome in a game is a new achievement. Effective games give you the opportunity to celebrate your achievements, and to look back over your past achievements.

Gamification works because it uses all three elements of gaming. When a process is gamified, it:

  • Becomes part of a bigger story
  • Sets gradually harder challenges
  • Tracks your progress

Look at any gamified app or process, and you’ll see these three elements at play. All three elements motivate you to keep playing.

You might also see:

  • The opportunity to compare your progress with others. This creates competition.
  • Fun! Think of Duolingo’s quirky owl mascot.
  • Rewards. When you succeed, you win a prize.

 Is Gamification Right For You?

Gamify Social Media

Gamification is primarily a motivation tool. It’s about turning a difficult and complex progress into a game. What you were avoiding becomes fun.

With that in mind, gamifying your social strategy is a good idea if:

  • You’re only just starting to use social media
  • You’ve got good intentions, but you rarely get around to updating your social media feeds.
  • You feel overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done on social media.

Still game? Then read on…

How to Gamify Your Social Media Strategy

Now you know what gamification is all about, how can you use it in your social media strategy?

Step 1: Make Sure You Know Your Bigger Story

Social media is never the end goal. Rather, it’s a tool to help you achieve a bigger goal. This could be selling more stuff, winning more clients, or networking with leaders in your industry.

What’s your goal in using social media? This goal is the bigger story that your social media strategy is part of.

Another way of looking at your big story is to think about your brand identity. How will you use social media to develop your brand’s story?

Step 2: Set Yourself (Little) Challenges

You know your bigger goal. Now break it down into smaller goals.

For example, your ultimate goal might be to use social media to drive sales. But you don’t yet have a Facebook page for your brand, let alone any fans. So break your goal down into mini-missions. These could be:

  • Learning how to set up a Facebook page
  • Preparing the images and copy for your Facebook page
  • Setting up your Facebook page
  • Idea-storming for what you could share on Facebook
  • Getting your first 100 Facebook likes

And so on…

With each challenge you overcome, you’ll see further into the horizon, so you can then set yourself more challenges.

Remember, keep your challenges simple. Make sure they only challenge you a little bit. That way, you’ll stay motivated.

Step 3: Track Your Progress

Each time you complete one of your mini-missions, make a note of what you’ve done. Over time, you’ll be amazed at what you’ve achieved.

Notice that this gamification process doesn’t need to be complicated. You can do it all with a pen and paper. Or if you prefer, you can do it in a word process, or using a spreadsheet.

Step 4: Treat Yourself!

When you complete a mission, give yourself a treat! This could be as simple as taking five minutes for a coffee break or snacking on your favorite food.

For bigger goals, you can reward yourself with a meal out, or a weekend vacation.

After your treat, you’ll return to your next mission rejuvenated and ready for the new challenge.

Step 5: Make it Fun!

Social media has made the world way less formal. So don’t be afraid of having fun as you achieve your goals.

Want even more fun? Find another business that’s in a similar place to you in their social strategy. Set up a series of challenges together. Then see who can complete them the fastest!

That’s Gamification – Now Get Playing!

Now you know how to gamify your social strategy, go out and do it!

Also, let us know what you think about gamification in the comments section, below.