Dark social: how your business can measure unmeasurable metrics
Any business owner that has run a marketing campaign knows the importance of measuring results through valuable metrics. But not all metrics are created equal. They can go from the straight forward pageviews and cost-per-click to the more obscure word-of-mouth and brand-awareness. And in that world of hard-to-pin-down data is when a big part of the magic happens. That is dark social.
Also known as dark traffic or dark funnel, this concept tries to explain the kind of metrics that are not found on regular analytics software and can be difficult to turn into a KPI. The overwhelming amount of digital platforms we use each day is making it harder to track your user’s journey before they convert. As a result, dark social challenges businesses and agencies to look for a more creative approach to measure that valuable information and act accordingly.
In this article we will cover some of those strategies.
But, let’s start from the beginning.
Which marketing metrics are easy to measure
In most digital advertising campaigns, you have 3 key players: your website, social media, and digital ads. Companies need to know what users are doing on their website, how their digital ads are performing, and what engagement they are getting from their social media efforts.
Some of the most common metrics to evaluate are:
- For websites: sessions, pageviews, conversion, engagement time, and traffic sources.
- For digital ads: clicks, cost-per-click, conversions, click-through-rate, and impressions.
- For social media: reach, clicks, comments, share, and everything that falls under “engagement”.
This can be turned into marketing objectives like “increase my website conversions by 20%” or “decrease my search ads CPC by 10%”.
Which marketing metrics are hard to measure?
Let’s consider this scenario: your company shares a post about one of your services on Facebook. A user clicks on it, goes to your website, fills the contact form and hires you.
Was that social media post responsible for that sale? Absolutely. Is that something you can track? You bet it is!
These are the kind of actions you can track by combining metrics and by doing proper reporting. In a situation like this, you can end up knowing how many sales are directly attributable to your social media efforts.
Let’s consider another version of that scenario: someone sees that same post on Facebook and it reminds them of a friend that might be interested, so they send it to them through a private message.That person reads the message, and likes the product so much they mention it to their partner. The partner searches for your website, looks for your phone number on Google Business Profile, calls you and ends up hiring you.
Is that Facebook post responsible for the sale? Yes, it still is. Is that something you can track? Well, hardly.
It’s in this world of social media messaging, word-of-mouth, peer recommendation, social proof, and platform-switching where a big part of your brand awareness is taking place.
How can you measure these hard-to-measure metrics?
Although there is no foolproof way to do this, we share some helpful tips.
Use UTM codes to track the source of your website visits
You’ve probably seen them a thousand times, and click on them a thousand more, unaware that they were there. UTM codes are an extra line of characters you can add to the URL of your website when sharing it on places like social media post, QR codes, or digital ads. These characters don’t change the destination of your link, but they include additional “parameters” that can help you track information like the source or the campaign.
So, even though you are sharing the same page of your website, you should add different UTM codes when using it on different platforms, like a Facebook post, a Google Search ad, a YouTube Video or in a newsletter.
If someone clicks a link with a UTM code on your Facebook post, and shares it to a friend using a different platform, you can still track this new visit back to that original Facebook post.
You can use UTM codes when linking to your website on:
- Social media
- Digital Ads
- QR codes
How to evaluate UTM parameters
You can check those parameters (source, medium, and campaign) on analytics tools like Google Analytics.
Here is a helpful campaign URL builder.
Ask your prospective client: How did you hear about us?
This simple question can deliver very interesting insights and it’s easy to implement. It can be included in places like your website’s contact forms, on surveys, over the phone, or when the user visits your store.
When you are running a marketing campaign, you are probably reaching users on many different platforms, like digital ads, social media, radio, tv, and billboards. It’s not uncommon that your user saw your brand in more than one placement.
When you ask a question like “how did you hear about us?”, you get to understand the placement that resonated better with the user.
At the same time, you can get additional sources that are not technically part of your campaign, like “recommended by a friend”.
Keep track of the answers
It doesn’t matter how and where you ask this question, it’s important to keep track of this information in a centralized document. This way, it will help you see a bigger picture.
Connect the dots
You need to find techniques to connect two or more seemingly unconnected metrics. For example: you air a TV commercial. That commercial is not clickable, but you see an uncommon increase in website visits after the commercial airs. Those extra clicks are most probably attributed to that TV commercial.
Another example is through the impact of social shares by influencers. You might see an unusual peak of visits on your website and after digging around, you find that an influential social media user shared a positive review of your brand on their social media channels and that drove more visits.
With most metrics, you can dig deeper than the top layer of information. For example: you can see that 20% of your website traffic comes from LinkedIn. That is a useful metric on its own. But you can always do some further analysis and look at what kind of posts triggered more clicks, or at what time of the day you get more clicks, or if there is a relationship between how much your post is shared to the traffic it creates.
Look further away
If you see that you’ve received more, or less, visits than usual, without any change on your marketing budget. It’s time to evaluate external factors that may have had an impact on your results.
- You have a new competitor, or an old competitor is stepping up their marketing efforts.
- Important dates can directly affect your results. For example, learn how the holidays affect your digital campaigns.
- Social and natural events: from economic turmoil to natural disasters.
Google alerts is a free tool that allows you to add keywords and receive emails “alerts” when those words are mentioned on places like websites, articles, or videos. It’s a great tool to track when your company, product, or service are mentioned on other websites. And, yes, you can track your own name too.
Additional dark social considerations
Dark social teaches us that, even if we give our best effort, we will not be able to track every metric. That’s why we need to have the following approach to marketing.
Have a comprehensive marketing plan
In our competitive landscape, running a couple of Google Search Ads campaigns doesn’t cut it anymore. You need a comprehensive marketing plan tailored to your goals and how you want your business to grow. This includes offering a coherent brand experience on every touchpoint, from social media and digital ads, to the content on your website and the way you greet your clients at your company.
In these types of marketing ecosystems, you need to plan the role each platform will have in the overall experience, as well as how they interact with each other. This needs to be done in a deliberate and strategic manner.
Your brand needs to be everywhere
It’s a well known marketing principle that users need to interact with your brand 7 times before they become aware or act upon your call to action. Although it’s quite a generalization, it’s true that the more places your brand can engage with a customer, the more likely you are to reach them with your message.
Don’t put all your eggs in one, or few, baskets. And if your budget is limited, cherry pick the most important touchpoints based on understanding where your target audience moves.
Understand that the reach of a campaign goes further than its metrics
As we mentioned before, metrics are a valuable tool to evaluate your campaign. This, often real-time data can measure how your different campaigns are working. But it’s crucial to understand that the impact of your campaigns goes way beyond these metrics.
For example, if you run a Google Search campaign, you can measure the amount of clicks, cost per clicks, and even conversions directly attributable to that ad. Now, consider the following: a user that searched for your services, maybe didn’t click your ad right away, but that simple ad is part of a bigger awareness campaign. By seeing this ad, this person will have a better recollection of your brand the next time they see it somewhere else. And this will increase your chances of them engaging with you.
Want to start your comprehensive marketing campaign?
At Liquid Creative we love metrics and they area key aspect of every comprehensive marketing campaign we create for our clients. If you want to grow your business and are looking for a marketing strategy that includes website design, digital marketing, or video production, but that goes beyond these platforms in order to achieve results, give us a call.