Whenever I hear talk about the return on investment in social media, I can’t help but imagine this:
Some lucky marketer stands there, absolutely ecstatic, exclaiming, “I’ve found them! I’ve found them! The Holy Grail, the Ark of the Covenant and the definitive answer to ROI on social media!”
You are likely relieved that I didn’t pursue a career in comedy, but that’s not the point.
The point is that the value and impact of social media marketing, despite a wealth of increasingly sophisticated ways to capture social activity, is very, very difficult to measure.
Jay Baer, a smart guy who has good thoughts about social media specifically and marketing in general, explained this well in a post titled, “Why Social Media Will Never Get the Credit It Deserves.”
I highly recommend reading it, but if you’re short on time, here’s a summary:
After seeing a Facebook post from a friend about a backpack, Jay requested the backpack for Christmas and his wife bought it for him. He loves that backpack.
In terms of analytics, as Jay notes, it’d look like a direct referral through the website. Obviously, what actually happened is that he saw the backpack on Facebook and later got it.
This is the concept behind “dark social:” there is an enormous amount of activity driven by social media that’s impossible to track, because there isn’t a digital footprint for everything we do (…only nearly everything).
Here’s another example. During my time managing the Instagram presence for @visitma while here at Connelly Partners, a commenter once mentioned to me, in passing, that she visited Mount Greylock after seeing a post of ours about it.
Home run for social ROI, right?
At CP, we measure our efforts in likes, retweets, shares, comments, repins, clicks and more, all of which are meaningful actions, but tell a fraction of the story.
How many people view a post their friend shared about a destination and then visit that place later on? How many people see a tweet and then think more about buying a product? How many people come across a pin and try a new recipe?
I think it happens often. I think that the power of dark social is vast, because people spend so much time on social platforms and because social interactions can be personal in a way that other forms of marketing are not.
That I believe this should come as little surprise (BREAKING: SOCIAL MEDIA MANAGER SAYS SOCIAL MEDIA IS IMPORTANT).
There isn’t any way to know. There won’t be until we actually measure how all the synapses fire in our brains, a highly unsettling thought made more bothersome because there are probably people working on it right now.
Until then, I’m sticking with my theory. All kinds of things can happen in the dark.