Should pharma embrace the dark side? If that means dark social, definitely, agency says

Dark social media can account for 75% of all shares.

Pharma has been accused of being on the dark side, but now one agency is encouraging it to go there. The dark social side, that is.

While the name “dark social” sounds sinister, it’s actually just a growing way that people share content on social media, according to Andrew Grojean, social media manager at Intouch Solutions: “Dark social is effectively word-of-mouth sharing. It’s when a user does things like copy and paste a URL and drop it into a messaging app, or copies a link on a website and send it in an email where referrals aren’t always passed.”

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Dark social also includes other shared activity that can’t be tracked or analyzed, such as links or content sent in instant messages, texts, Snapchats, mobile apps or even emails.

The problem for marketers is that dark social activity accounts for up to 75% of all sharing on social channels, and that figure has been growing over the past few years. That’s quite a bit of unknown activity when it comes to a brand and its content.

Dark social is also likely a valuable share, Grojean said. People sending content links in private messages are likely to be sending to a close circle of family, friends and acquaintances. Studies have repeatedly shown that people trust those kinds of word-of-mouth endorsements from family and friends more than they do advertisements.

So how can a pharma marketer tell if they’re getting a lot of dark social traffic? Marketers in general can usually tell the difference between direct traffic from people who type a simple url into a browser and the pasted-in link that still shows up as direct traffic in analysis but seems unlikely to have been hand-typed because of a long and unwieldy URL.

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The good news is that pharma can take some steps to track and improve dark social sharing information, and Grojean offered some suggestions.

First, companies can start tracking everything. They can add tracking URLs to sites, emails, and Facebook and other social posts by creating a unique URL for each so that when someone copies the URL into a private message or chat and the receiver opens it, marketers using analytics will be able to tell how the user got to them.

Drugmakers can also add custom sharing buttons, Grojean said. Marketers can build buttons, like those that allow someone to share the content on Facebook and Twitter, that include parameters that would let brands know where their traffic came from.

But while marketers can try to figure out where traffic is coming from, they shouldn't be alarmed if they can’t nail it all down. They should try taking a broader view and analyzing what is known about the content that is being shared more, and attempt to create similar content. When content isn’t performing well, they should change it or switch it out.

And when it comes to creating advertising materials, marketers should work to make content naturally social, include a call to action and have relevance and value, Grojean said. But they should also make sure to include tracking codes and appropriate targeting.