How to engage digital audiences through private media and dark social

By Anh Nguyen, on


If you have a mobile device, you most likely have a messaging app or two installed in addition to a phone’s native SMS app. These apps allow any user to connect with digital audiences, and they’re becoming increasingly important for brands.

According to The Economist, more than 2.5 billion people have at least one messaging app installed. Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, which is also owned by Facebook, lead the pack. In addition to these leaders, there are many others, including Skype, Google Hangouts, WeChat, Viber, Snapchat, Line, Yahoo Messenger and Kik. The rise of these apps will determine your marketing and customer service efforts if they haven’t already. Why? Because that’s where you’ll find your digital audiences.

Of great significance is the rate at which consumers use and retain messaging apps on their mobile devices. CIO reported that research from Yahoo’s Flurry shows that apps are used an average of nearly nine times a day, compared to approximately two times for other apps. This same research shows that users retain 62 percent of messaging apps after a full year of use, compared to an average of only 11 percent for all other apps. Messaging apps have both longevity of retention and regularity of use.

Messaging apps are popular and widely used

Messaging apps are a less expensive and often free alternative to SMS messaging and voice calls. They work with wifi, therefore eliminating the need for mobile data usage or minutes. Because younger users find it too time-consuming to communicate over the phone or through email, they opt for messaging apps.

According to Internet Retailer, Forrester Research Inc. analyst Julie Ask said mobile messaging apps make it more convenient and more fun for consumers to chat with friends and relatives than the messaging tools that come pre-installed on most smartphones.

Shift from social media to private media, dark social

There has been a shift from social media to private media and dark social. Private media refers to the direct messaging (DM) or private messaging (PM) features found on social media platforms. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn each have DM capabilities as part of their platform. This was so important to Facebook that the company separated its DM feature into its own app, Messenger.

Facebook also now supports scannable codes that allow for unique Messenger URLs. This will enable easier discovery by users and brands in the private sphere. Facebook pages and ads include a “message the brand” option. The social network also introduced bots for the Messenger platform that can provide automated subscription content, customized communications and live automated messages.

Instagram added a direct messaging function in 2014. The Instagram DM feature recently became even more important with the introduction of Instagram Stories (a very near copy of Snapchat Stories). Replies to Instagram Story clips are directed into DM, and the thread remains there until the user deletes it. Digital audiences find this beneficial because there is a history to refer back to. Snapchat messages, on the other hand, disappear immediately.

Twitter expanded its DM character count so that longer messages could be written. It now also includes stickers and GIF capabilities. LinkedIn has followed suit with emojis and stickers in its PM feature. These steps by the major social media platforms speak to the rise and importance of private media.

Beyond its sinister-sounding name, dark social simply refers to “the social sharing of content that occurs outside of what can be measured by web analytics programs,” as defined by Techopedia. The content or links are not shared through email or on social media, which can be tracked. This is a challenge for marketers who want or need to track analytics of their digital audiences.

Why should brands and marketers care about messaging apps, private media and dark social?

With the investments that have been poured into updating and improving messaging apps, there are more marketing and customer service opportunities than ever before. Why not take advantage of platforms that have already built in digital audiences with high engagement?

Brands can send marketing messages and offers with apps. They can create buzz around their products through PM features and have individual conversations with their digital audiences, rather than an overall marketing broadcast.

On the customer service front, messaging apps enable brands to confirm product ordering and shipping and provide receipts. Brands can create real-time conversations with their digital audiences to address issues or answer questions. Messenger bots can answer frequently asked questions.

The opportunities are boundless for organizations to connect further with their digital audiences. At the heart of this is the fact that humans crave personalized conversation, which can now be easily enabled with technology such as messaging apps, private media and dark social.

About The Author

Anh Nguyen

Owner of Amplified Marketing

Anh Nguyen is the owner of Amplified Marketing and describes herself as a 'marketing and business development professional with a love of cool tech, social media, and travel.' She hosts #MobileChat, a weekly Twitter chat on all things mobile. Nguyen works with B2B companies on their marketing strategies and implementations.

Articles by Anh Nguyen
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