LONDON: Social marketing remains focused on public platforms, but the growth of 'dark social' – private conversations that can't be measured by web analytics – has significant implications for marketers who will have to develop conversation-based approaches, a Warc report argues.

Toolkit 2017 defines dark social as including activity on closed networks such as messenger apps, but also refers to recommendations or links sent via email.

There is a major disconnect between where marketing money is being spent and where social sharing is taking place: 90% of social investment is on public platforms but RadiumOne research suggests that 84% of social sharing happens via dark social.

This makes it difficult to assess how consumers are engaging with a brand's content, although the use of shortened URLs and campaign-specific URLs can help in this regard, and marketers may miss out on valuable insights.

Ultimately, marketers are being driven towards conversations which will have to be initiated by consumers themselves. (Non-subscribers can download a sample of this Toolkit chapter here.)

"Messenger platforms are a lot more private and 'personal' than public social network environments, so audiences will be far less accepting of any interruption to their conversations," the Toolkit says.

In this context, chatbots are shaping up to become an important, if not the central, touchpoint in the path to purchase, as the traditional push of marketing is superseded by the pull of service.

Numerous brands are already exploring whether these can boost their business; Pizza Hut, the restaurant chain, for example, has launched chatbots for Facebook Messenger and Twitter's direct-message feature enabling users to place orders and receive information.

But marketers will need to consider their consumers and industry when designing their approach to chatbots. A consumer might well use a bot on a bank's website but draw the line at trusting a chatbot on Facebook with their bank details.

One possible future is already being played out in Asia, where China's WeChat has evolved from a chat app into a mobile lifestyle hub, providing a range of services, including payment, that allows it not just to connect people to people but also to connect people to business.

Data sourced from Warc