Closing Time

Dark Social in B2B Marketing: What it is and How to Harness it

Buyers, especially in B2B, learn about products and services in various ways. 

As social media platforms like TikTok continue to gain popularity, it becomes increasingly difficult for marketers to track web traffic and social engagement with traditional analytics tools like Google Analytics.

Dark social is an intriguing phenomenon because it occurs without our direct visibility. It earns its name because it happens behind the scenes, hidden from our view in channels like Slack, Microsoft Teams, email, or direct messages.

But how do we know dark social exists? What are some common examples? How can marketers begin to track and harness it? Shama Hyder will break down all things dark social in this episode of Closing Time. 

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What is dark social?

Dark social refers to a phenomenon that has been around for some time but has recently gained significant attention. It describes the consumption and sharing of information in ways that are not easily visible to companies or leaders. Instead, these interactions take place behind the scenes, hence the term “dark social.” To understand this concept, let’s consider an example.

Imagine that you and I frequently connect on LinkedIn, where we view each other’s posts. Let’s say you shared an interesting article. I might read it without leaving a comment, but I could send you a direct message on LinkedIn or share the article link with my team on Slack. In these instances, I have both consumed and shared the content. However, if you were curious about the article’s reception and whether anyone else read it, you wouldn’t be able to tell just by looking at the content itself.

This is where dark social comes into play. A significant portion of information sharing and conversations about companies, individuals, and leaders happens in these hidden channels. Although this has always been the case to some extent, we are now witnessing a tipping point. The prevalence of dark social has significant implications for how we approach social media and engage with our target audience.

To adapt to this changing landscape, it is crucial to recognize the limitations of traditional social media analytics and explore alternative methods to gain insights from dark social. Understanding the dynamics of these hidden conversations can help businesses better understand their customers, track the spread of information, and adjust their strategies accordingly.

Common examples of dark social

How do we know dark social exists? Are there any indicators that can help us identify its presence? The evidence of dark social emerges when someone reaches out and mentions that they read an article or that their team shared a link to a podcast episode. However, the simplicity of this answer often leads to skepticism. People tend to think, “Can it really be that straightforward?” Surprisingly, many companies overlook the power of asking their customers, prospects, and leads how they discovered them.

The truth is, not enough organizations prioritize this simple act of inquiry. They fail to train their salespeople to ask questions like, “How did you find us?” or “What led you to our website?” However, this is where valuable data lies. Consider how many people may come across a podcast like “Closing Time” and learn about Insightly through it. But if Insightly doesn’t ask these individuals how they found them when they visit the website, they may resort to a Google search. Consequently, the analytics and attribution will erroneously attribute their discovery to a direct or branded search on Google.

Search engines, notably Google, have evolved significantly – they are no longer the starting point for finding information; they have become the final gateway to desired destinations. Nowadays, people discover things through various platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, podcasts, and LinkedIn. These platforms spark interest and curiosity, leading users to Google as the means to reach their intended destination or explore related threads.

Understanding the influence of dark social and the shifting landscape of online discovery can greatly benefit businesses. By actively engaging with customers, prospects, and leads and asking them how they found you, you can gather valuable insights into the impact of dark social channels. This knowledge allows you to refine your marketing strategies and adapt to the changing behavior of your target audience. Don’t underestimate the power of asking; it can unlock a wealth of information about your customers’ journey and help you navigate the complex web of modern digital discovery.

The buyer's journey

The buyer’s journey encompasses multiple stages, involving research, website visits, social media engagement, and consuming content from various sources. A significant portion of this journey occurs in what we call “dark social”— because it’s invisible to us. Optimizing content for buyers as they progress through their journey is crucial. Research from industry experts like Forrester and Gartner shows that buyers independently progress through a significant portion of the buying process. Statistics vary, ranging from 60% to as high as 90%. For instance, Forrester states that buyers are 64% through the cycle before they engage with sales.

Consider yourself as a buyer. When making a purchase, you likely conduct extensive research beforehand. You become educated and informed, often relying on third-party advocacy and dark social channels. By the time you reach out to a salesperson, you already have a clear idea of what you want. This discrepancy between how buyers buy and how companies approach marketing and sales is a significant source of frustration and misalignment. Marketing plays a crucial role in moving buyers along their journey, providing education, nurturing, awareness, and creating meaningful connections. Sales, on the other hand, represents only a small fraction of the overall process. Yet, many companies allocate a disproportionate amount of attention to sales, often disregarding the importance of marketing (see image above). This misalignment leads to frustration between sales and marketing teams and can hinder meeting business goals.

To succeed in the modern buyer’s journey, you need to position yourself as a guide rather than a pushy salesperson. Customers and prospects want to lead the way, conduct their research, and make informed decisions. Nobody wants to be sold, but everyone wants to buy. Understanding this dynamic allows you to be a trusted expert, offering valuable insights and building goodwill.

Another concept to consider is the 95-5 rule. Research from the LinkedIn B2B Institute reveals that only 5% of the market is actively looking to buy at any given time. The remaining 95% is not currently in the market for your product or service. Many companies mistakenly focus their efforts on the entire market, assuming everyone is ready to buy. However, by investing in building relationships, educating potential customers, and establishing yourself as a market leader, you can create a strong presence. When that 5% enters the buying stage, they will turn to you as the trusted source.

How to leverage dark social in your organization

Marketers should understand that dark social is not a platform or a specific strategy but rather a concept. Everything they share and do is being consumed and shared, even if it’s not immediately evident through comments or engagement metrics. Salespeople should not get discouraged if they don’t see instant responses or interactions because people consume information in various ways.

When building personal brands, sales professionals should focus on creating value and being genuine human beings. They should consistently share valuable insights and perspectives, mentor others in their field, and provide guidance when they are not the right fit for a potential customer. The old-school rules of sales, such as building a reputation, still apply. Sharing company-created content, earned media, and PR placements can be instrumental in moving prospects through the sales pipeline. It is crucial to understand how to utilize these resources effectively and seek guidance if necessary.

Sales should be the final step in the process, and marketing’s primary role is to connect with potential customers who are ready to buy and make it easy for them to complete the purchase. When salespeople can focus on their core responsibilities, marketing can fulfill its purpose effectively. It is essential for companies to recognize the significance of sales and ensure that both sales and marketing teams can excel in their respective roles.


What is dark social anyway? We’re learning about what it is and how to harness it in today’s episode of Closing Time. Hi, my name is Chip House. I’m CMO here at Insightly and welcome to a Closing Time the show for go-to-market leaders. Today I’m joined by Shama Hyder. She’s the CEO of Zen Media, a bestselling author, and a speaker. Welcome, Shama. Thanks so much for having me, Chip. Excited to be here on Closing Time. It’s super great to have you and so I kicked off the teaser there today with dark social. Can you tell us what is dark social? So dark social, well, for starters, it’s not something new, but I think we’ve reached a certain tipping point with it, if you will. So what is very simply means is, how information is consumed and shared doesn’t happen where companies can see it, where leaders can see it. It happens behind the scenes, hence the term dark social. A really easy way to think about this is actually through an example, right? So, Chip, you and I connect a ton on LinkedIn. We, you know, look at each other’s posts, things like that. Sure. Let’s say I look at an article that you shared. Now, I may or may not comment on that, but I may look at it and I may send you a LinkedIn direct message, or I might take a link to that article and share it in Slack with my team. Now, in these ways, I’ve shared the content, I’ve consumed them. But if you are looking at that and saying, hey, is anybody reading this like, I wonder how this resonated, there’s no way you’d be able to tell just looking at that content.. And so much of what happens today is is within that dark social realm where the way things are shared, the way information is spread, the things people are saying about companies and individuals and leaders, they’re all happening behind the scenes. I think that’s always been the case. But now, again, you see this at a tipping point. And so the way we even use social, the way we need to engage our buyers has to change dramatically. It makes perfect sense. So, dark social, a lot of it happens but we just don’t see it, right? I mean, that’s part of the reason it’s called dark social. It just happens invisibly behind the scenes. And so how do we know it exists? So what what are some of the markers that it exists? Where does it show up? It shows up at the end of the day when someone reaches out and says, you know, I read this article or your team or my team shared this link to this podcast that you did. But here’s the thing, you have to ask, and I feel like sometimes that answer is not, it’s a little too simple, right? It’s like, how do I know my marketing is working? Ask, ask your customers, ask your prospects, ask your leads, and then you get kind of this like, what do you mean ask? It can’t be that simple. And yet look at how many companies don’t ask, don’t ask their customers, don’t ask their leads, don’t train their salespeople to actually ask, how are you finding us? And, you know, and so that’s really where you get a lot of good data because look at how many people listen to Closing Time, and are watching this and they’re going to know about Insightly through that. But if you don’t ask them that when they come to Insightly, because what are they going to do?. They’re going to watch this. You’re going to say, hey, that looks cool.. I wonder what they’re about. Looks like a SaaS platform, whatever. Where are they going to go? They’re going to go to Google. They’re going to type it in, and then they’re going to go to your site. Now, as a CMO, if you’re looking at your analytics and you look at attribution, it’s going to say they found you on Google Direct Search, or they searched by name, branded search or direct search, whatever you want to call it. But that’s not actually the truth. See, Google has, search engines in general, but I’ll just say Google for the sake of simplicity. I mean, that’s changed tremendously. Because it used to be starting point. It’s like where you start your search. Now it’s just the final gateway. It’s like where you go to get to where you’re wanting to go, right? It’s now really the super information highway, if you will. Before it was different. That’s where you started to find things. Now you find things in a million different places, on TikTok, on Instagram, podcasts, LinkedIn, and then you go to Google to get to that destination or, you know, follow a thread to wherever it may take you. That makes perfect sense. We actually, Shama, you had given that tip to me months back and we updated one of our forms to add the, “How did you hear about us?” And it’s already providing great data, right? It’s different than your attribution software will tell you that it’s coming via organic or direct traffic to the website. Yeah, that’s so awesome to hear, Chip. And we see that across the board. You know, in PR, which is a lot of obviously that you know, that we do. It’s funny because so much of when you ask someone and they come in, they’re like, oh, I read about you on Forbes or I read an article or my CFO shared this piece, you know, whatever it is. So I think especially for third party advocacy, for PR, for the things that you can’t track as easily, that qualitative data is just gold. Yeah, no question. And you talked about, hey, just why don’t you just talk to your customers, right? And a lot of this comes down to how people buy. And I think it’s not in just a B2B setting, but B2C also, obviously research happens, websites get visited, social media gets visited, contents from other people get looked at and you know, so this B2B buyer’s journey per se has multiple steps. And much of it, you know, we don’t see necessarily so we have to be in the places where our potential customers are. And so, is there, you talked about obviously getting that insight from talking to your customers, Shama, but how do you think about optimizing content for buyers as they’re kind of progressing down that journey? Yeah, great. Great question, Chip. So here’s how to think about buyers progressing through the journey. So I want you to imagine a triangle.. All right. So heavy side up. You’ve got a broad triangle, little, like pointy side down. You’ve got a triangle. And so two thirds of that triangle is is research, dark social, buyers not reaching out. And actually, if I was really being accurate, it would be about four fifths of that triangle that tiny little tip at the bottom is sales. That’s when they reach out. And so you’ve got data from everywhere from Forrester to Gartner, and the research varies I mean,. I’ve seen stats from 60% to 90%, 60% on up, to at what point do buyers reach out to the company? So how much of the buying process do they get through on their own? So, you know, with Forrester it’s 64% they’re through that buying cycle before they ever talk to sales.. I’ve seen numbers such as high as 90% they’re through that process.. And you just put yourself in a customer’s shoes when you’re buying something, Chip, or I’m buying something. Do we go to the salesperson, you know, and again, to your point, B2B or B2C, you’re going to the dealership. You’re, you know, like you already know.. You’ve already done your research let’s say, to buy a car or whatever it is, you know. SaaS, B2B, it’s no different the way buyers are buying. They want to do the research on their own. This is where third party advocacy comes in. This is where dark social comes to play, like they’re already being educated. Right? So now I’m going to connect the dots to you for content. Now, imagine another triangle and flip that. So the base is at the bottom. The majority of this at most companies is sales and a little bit at the bottom, the sliver is marketing. So you can see how inverted the actual marketing sales process is compared to how buyers are actually buying. But you get the picture right. I mean, what is going to what’s really going to help these buyers move them down that journey? What’s going to help educate them, nurture them, create awareness, create like that, you know, create those connections in their brain? That’s all marketing. That’s not sales.. They’re not ready for that yet. And yet if you look at how much sales gets pushed out, it’s just funny. So we’re not, most companies are not doing it right. And that’s why there’s a lot of frustration. That’s why there’s a lot of frustration between sales and marketing. That’s why there’s a lot of frustration between, Why are we not meeting our numbers? Because the way buyers are buying has just changed dramatically. You know, and you can just ask your customers, ask your prospects, do you want to be led or do you want to lead? And they will tell you, hands down, no,. I want to lead. Like they want to do the research. They don’t you know, look, it’s the old adage, nobody wants to be sold but everybody wants to buy. So positioning yourself in that way is absolutely key. The other thing I always think about is the 95-5 rule, which is so crucial and this came out of the so a lot of research from the LinkedIn B2B Institute and they work with another institute on this and they found that 95% of your market is just not in the market to buy at any given time. Only 5% is. But the way we do sales and the way we try to do things is we try to preach to that 95%. Well, they’re not ready. Right. Like the point is that the majority of the things you do are going to be for that 95%. So when they’re ready to come to that 5%, they think of you, they’re going to buy. And it’s the opposite. The way most companies approach that, is they act like everybody is in that 5%. So 100% in your market. And that’s just not true. Which is why even with sales, no matter how much you try to sell someone who is not ready, they’re not going to buy because they’re just not where they need to be. But if you try to educate, if you try to build goodwill, if you are the go-to-market leader in your category, when they enter that 5%, inevitably you will get that business. So if I’m a salesperson and I can kind of establish myself as that trusted expert, that’s what you’re talking about. Absolutely. But even before sales, you know, marketing if in marketing you are establishing that trust, the problem is most marketers today are forced to do salespeople jobs, which look ten years ago, 15 years ago, it used to be really hard to get someone’s contact information. Right. And so, like today, it’s so easy for marketing to serve up. Like here’s an email address and here’s someone’s name and sales go at it. It’s completely I mean, the focus on kind of that just the quantity of leads or just we need contact information that really shouldn’t even be marketing’s job, seals can pull that it’s very easy to get contact information, you have a clear sense of your ICP you can figure out who belongs in that there’s so much data that we have today that lets you do that. Marketing’s job should be something really different marketing’s job should be for that 95%. Sales job is that 5%. marketing’s job is that 95% that’s not ready yet but when they’re ready, when they cross that little bridge you’re the brand they want to think about and most companies don’t think about it that way. And so marketing just ends up being, you know, kind of a collateral factory, you know, on demand collateral factory for sales, sadly, right? Like, hey, I need this. I need a brochure,. I need a PowerPoint, I need a deck, I need a white paper,. I need X, Y, Z, without really and again, all catering to that 5% when really it’s that 95%. That’s the much bigger market share. Yeah, so much of inbound marketing that the B2B world has been doing for the past ten plus years, it’s all been based about getting that contact information right and so that’s what marketing is doing, is providing that lead via a download or something like that. And now what you’re saying it sounds like Shama is, hey, the marketing’s job is to kind of create that awareness, create that brand affinity and kind of create the demand by having a voice to the 95 versus just the five. Yeah, absolutely, Chip. And how do you go about doing that? Right. So creating that affinity for brand,. I mean, not unlike what you’re doing right here on Closing Time, providing value, but realizing you’re not pushing your message down people’s throat. You’re not like again because the way people are doing the research, let’s say they even give you their contact info, but where are they going to figure out whether they’re going to do business with you? Right. It’s that old adage of yes, you know, what’s more powerful what you say about you or what other people say about you? And so that’s where so much of PR and earned media come into play. What are they looking at? Those peers that they’re talking to, influencers. That third party advocacy,. I really believe, will continue to be the differentiator between winners and losers. Shama, that’s very helpful. Thank you for that. So I’m going to bring it back around to dark social. And Closing Time is for go-to-market leaders and a lot of sales leaders also and salespeople watch this show and how can they best think about leveraging dark social to build their own personal brand so they become that relevant choice for the 5% that’s in market and ready to buy? Yeah. So great question, Chip. You know, for sales folks listening out there, I think your role, by the way, these days is incredibly important because, and look, I never had a salesperson look at me and say like, I’ve never known any salesperson out there to be like, boy,. I wish my job was a little bit harder. You know, the beautiful thing is if marketing is allowed to do their job, sales’ job becomes incredibly easier. So here’s here’s what I would say. Understand that dark social isn’t a platform or a strategy or a like even a tactic. The idea of dark social is that everything that you’re sharing and doing and saying is being consumed, is being shared, but don’t judge yourself too harshly if you’re not getting the instant hand raises and don’t fall into the trap, which again, you see so much on LinkedIn for the sake of engagement, people will post things just to get those comments and whatnot because that’s not really what you’re looking for. I just hate to see smart salespeople get disheartened because they feel like, well, I’m not getting enough comments or I’m not this must not be working because you just know that that’s not how people are consuming your information either. And so the the same way with companies, the way that you are making your mark, how you’re establishing your brand, the things that you’re saying, the way that you’re sharing, you know, you might go on a prospect’s profile and you might comment on their content over six months and you may think this guy doesn’t know who I am, but then when they reach out, they’re like,. Of course they know who you are, right? Of course they’ve seen your comments, but they’re not going to say, Hey, you know, Sally, thanks so much for those comments. Boy, you sure are a great salesperson. Like, that’s not the way affinity gets built. So I do think interestingly enough, a lot of the old school rules of sales apply, you know, creating value, being a good human being, you know, pointing people in a different direction when you’re not the right fit. These are the things that build your reputation, but doing them consistently and, you know, in public formats, sharing value, and I don’t mean kind of like those little stories or, I mean,. I think LinkedIn is getting smarter, too. So I think people can see through that right where it’s like a maybe a ploy to get some engagement versus being genuine and just sharing your perspective. So whether that’s mentoring other sales folks, whether it’s sharing, you know, a strategy that you found useful, whether it’s again, this is another big one part of what we do when we look at. PR isn’t just here’s your placement but so many times we work with sales team to see how do you use this? OK, your boss was just featured on this podcast or you just got a profile in Inc. or Fast Company. You know your company was mentioned here. How do you use that to move people through the pipeline? So I think it’s things like that, making sure that the things that your company is creating, marketing, PR, earned media, that you are sharing that, that you know how to utilize that. And if you don’t, then those are the questions you should be asking. And if you’re really not given that, then there’s a bigger question you should be asking about, you know, what you guys should be doing because again, sales is really the thing that brings it on home and it should be and that sale’s role. It’s not meant to be marketing, it’s not meant to be, you know, full scale. It’s really meant to be connecting with those people that are ready and making it super easy to to get them to the finish line. And I think that’s the challenge, is for sales to do their job well, marketing has to be able to do their job well. Well, the Shama, thank you for that. I mean, you’re such an expert in this space. And so it’s great to hear you kind of build that idea out for all of the listeners here today. So unfortunately, that’s all we have time for and thank you so much for joining us. Let’s do it again. Thanks for having me, Chip. And thanks to everybody out there for joining us for this episode of Closing Time. Make sure you click subscribe and tick the bell so you don’t miss an episode. Thank you.

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