Imagine you’re home on a Sunday night scrolling through your feed and you see something one of your friends would enjoy. What do you do? Do you post it on your social networking profile, or do you share it with them directly? Current research suggests that in addition to sharing on social media, many people will turn to one-on-one communication tools such as text, email, or instant messenger – a practice commonly known to marketers as dark social.

Initially coined back in 2012 by Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic, dark social is sharing that is untraceable by your analytics services, specifically through email, SMS and messaging apps, native mobile apps, and secure browsing.

So whether you’re emailing a co-worker, texting a friend, browsing the web within your Facebook app, or navigating an “https” website, you’re engaging in dark social. In a world where data means everything, dark social has become a marketer’s nightmare. There is a whole world of online conversations we can’t see – and the number of those conversations is only growing.

We recently surveyed over 20,000 consumers who are a part of our Smiley360 Peer Influencer Community and found that they prefer to share their thoughts and opinions on more intimate mediums. Seventy-three percent of the surveyed said they prefer to share opinions privately because they only wish to share with a select few people. Another 38% said it’s more convenient to share privately, and 25% said it’s just easier to converse in private.

Among those conversing in private, our data shows that while face-to-face communication and phone calls still rank highly among consumers, text-based communications are not far behind: 95% of respondents said they frequently text thoughts and opinions through text message. Another 87% used Facebook messenger for the same purpose. This is increasingly true for older consumers, of which 46% of people 55 and over only use dark social to share, which leaves out an entire demographic from marketers data.

Build a Home for your Best Advocates

Dark social is more than just an increasing trend in social sharing – it is the source of the majority of your brand’s direct referrals. It is where brand advocates are and where marketers should be in order to capitalize on word-of-mouth recommendations. So the question remains: what can modern marketers do to ensure their brand stays afloat in an ever-increasing world of private communication?

In its simplest form, dark social is word-of-mouth influence and can be harnessed by your brand if you know how to effectively communicate with your advocates. By creating a brand-owned community, or a “home” for your advocates, you have access to your most willing and happy consumers. Providing advocates with an accessible portal gives them a place to vocalize what they love about your brand and share content with others. Marketers then have the ability to create personalized experiences that leave a meaningful impression, giving consumers something to talk about. Consumers are inspired by the actions of their favored brand, and the brand is propelled by the advocacy of its consumers.

Are you ready to stop ignoring these channels and see the light in dark social? Sign up for a demo to see how online community marketing can propel word-of-mouth recommendations with brand advocates.