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The power of dark social for the B2B channel

9 min read By August 3, 2022 No Comments

Dark social, while it may conjure up images of Stranger Things, it’s way less scary than it sounds. In essence, dark social are all those touchpoints that cannot be measured.

On average in B2B, prospects will have 6-20 touchpoints with a brand, before making any kind of contact. Much of those touchpoints take place in the dark funnel. When it comes to channel, those dark-funnel touchpoints only increase. So you can see the importance of understanding dark social and the dark funnel: it plays an enormous role. 

In this article we’ll be diving deeper into the depths of dark social. How can you work around unattributable touchpoints? What can be learned from the biggest dark-social advocates? And why do referrals play such a big role in the channel?

What is dark social? 

In essence, dark social is content that is shared outside the reach of analytics tools. In other words, the majority of decisions and touchpoints that are made outside the measurable spheres. That includes:

  • Offline: talking to each other during in-person events, visits, watercooler moments
  • Private networks: sharing a post you saw on Linked through DMs, Slack channels, Whatsapp, phone calls, e-mails
  • Consuming content (lurking): watching a YouTube video, listening to a podcast on Spotify, reading a blog, scrolling through LinkedIn, Reddit, or Quora

Dark Social according to those in the know

Dark social and demand gen go hand in hand with Refine Labs and its CEO, Chris Walker. With a combined 127K+ followers, they are a force to be reckoned with on LinkedIn (and more recently, TikTok) – even though that statistic probably wouldn’t excite them.

While we could have easily featured this company in our 4 Top social selling brands and what you can learn from their success article, we feel they deserve a spot of their own.

Much more important is what they have to say, and how much it resonates with their potential customers.

Some key takeaways

“Most companies try to just put website content in social networks, which is why it doesn’t work. You need a whole new content strategy, team of talent, KPIs and measurement systems to win with dark social content.” – Chris Walker

Many brands still rely on websites as a destination for information consumption. Yet this implies 1. That people are actively looking for a solution to their problems. And 2. That they know and trust your brand (brand authority). That they are ready to speak to someone at your company.

This is simply not true.

No end-user is scrolling through websites during their lunchbreak like a creepy Google crawler. They’re on LinkedIn. Reddit. Slack groups.

If you want to create demand, you need to be where your end-users are.

“B2B companies resist dark social content and don’t invest appropriately in these programs because attribution software doesn’t effectively measure its impact” Chris Walker

Because only a tiny percentage of end-users are ready-to-buy, you need to make them aware of a problem in the first place. Getting your message in front of many eyes should be the main goal. Social selling is a great way to do this because reach is easily amplified.

Dark social is even more prominent in channel

What makes dark social even more prominent in the channel?

A lack of data. Or rather, a black box of data. Because there is data. It’s just stuck in your partners’ systems. Making it almost impossible to do any meaningful attribution.

A partner shares a post from a vendor, end-users like the post, and the post is then shown in their feed and seen by thousands of other (potential) customers. The reach is exponential because the audience is already in place. But without a constant feedback loop, you have no idea.

The one thing you do know. Once the demand is created, the demand needs to be captured i.e., strike while the iron’s hot!

Demand gen as the new standard in channel marketing

You’ve created demand in dark social, now you want to keep the momentum going. In the previous blog post we quickly touched on Demand gen vs. Lead gen.

Let’s go a bit deeper into why demand gen is becoming so popular within B2B channel marketing.

If we work from the premise that most end-users are not ready to buy, you need to get them to a stage where they are. That means creating a form of desire, a need, or highlighting a problem they may have.

Demand creation example

Due to the rise of hybrid working there has been a greater need for complete AV solutions (so-called Scrum Rooms) in corporate offices. But with a camera and microphone built into virtually every laptop, end-users don’t feel the acute need.

Possible pain points:

  • lagging connection = difficult to communicate
  • bad quality video = unprofessional
  • bad acoustics = frustration all around

Solution: Offer partners comprehensive campaigns that educate end-users about these recognizable issues. Introduce a solution to that problem that can be implemented immediately, at no cost, or without involving many stakeholders. Finally, nudge towards the products/services that you offer.

Medium: LinkedIn posts, videos, slideshows, podcasts.

Capturing demand

Although the above happens in ‘dark social’, offering this educational information to partners will get your brand top of mind.

In the next layer, the demand is captured.

Medium: LinkedIn advertising, landing pages, lead magnets such as testimonials and customer cases.

Outcome: Now you have data i.e., lead information. This lead information is used to target further campaigns and nurture the lead instead of handing them over to sales and calling it an inbound lead.

Ultimately, this generates a set of high-intent leads that will be further down the purchasing funnel when they decide to ‘book a demo’ or ‘schedule a discovery call’.

Why MQLs won’t cut it anymore

Most marketing teams we see still focus on leads. Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) are created by directing potential customers from advertising to landing pages. Here they are asked to fill in their contact details to download an e-book, checklist, or some other lead magnet.

The problem is, when a sales rep tries to reach out to these potential customers, they are far from ready to buy. Instead, you want to focus on nurturing these MQLs to create high-intent leads.

Are there ways to attribute dark social? 

Great news, there are ways to find out how customers found you even though you cannot measure them. You can attribute some dark social touchpoints. If you want to find out how prospects heard of you, all you need to do is ask.

Image shows the 'demo sign-up form' from the Channext website, the image also shows a number of different attributions. Since we implemented the ‘How did you hear about us?’ field on our demo request, we have found this to be true. The majority of our demo requests come through referrals, our CEO being interviewed on podcasts, and Youtube.

Check out that popular TK Kader interview on Youtube!

Let’s focus on the referral part here.

Why you should focus on referrals

Referrals are a big part of dark social. Especially those in the form of word of mouth, external reviews on sites such as G2, and social posts talking about a product/service.

Referrals are often overlooked. But they are incredibly important. Especially in the channel.

Here are 3 reasons why you should focus on referrals:

  • Greater trust. 83% of consumers trust a referral from people they know. Neilsen
  • Easy to scale: imagine building an automated referral system
  • Easier to upsell: greater trust means more chance to sell

How to implement a referral system

Referrals are great in B2B, but work especially well in channel. Because you don’t just have 1 partner, you have dozens, hundreds even. And your partners in turn don’t just have 1 vendor, they have 20-30. Just imagine the reach!

“Your sales department is critical to your referral program’s success, so it’s essential to get them involved early and often. The best way is to promote the referral channel in the same way as you are advertising to engaging partners and customers.” Neil Patel

Asking for referrals can be done in many ways. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Timing & channel 

Is most of your communication done via email and you’ve been getting responses? Send an email after using your product/service long enough to have seen results.

Make it easy

Do you visit your partners regularly? Take 10 minutes at the end of a meeting to look at referral form together.

Incentives/Thank yous

However easy you make it, referrals take time. An incentive beforehand such as a gift card works like a charm.

Once you have a referral, it’s time to say thank you. Of course a round of golf or merch always does the trick. But this is also an opportunity to emphasize your product/service and support. Think access to new features of your product/service, limited-time exclusive support for unmanaged partners, or access to your Partner Hub.

In this chapter we took the plunge and went deeper into dark social. We saw how unattributed data makes up a great deal of channel marketing and how to get the most out of your dark funnel. In the next article, we’ll explore social selling from the perspective of the direct channel vs. the indirect channel. Stay tuned!

Cassandra Pizzey

Cassandra Pizzey

A Channexteer since 2021, Cassandra has been copywriting for the past 10-years, broadening her horizon as content marketer since entering the B2B SaaS industry. Connect with Cassandra on LinkedIn for more.

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