The Art of the Dark Post

Many recent discussions about “Dark Posts” have focused on politics. And that makes sense. It is a juicy, controversial story that the media want to write about and people want to talk about.

But what fewer people are talking about is how brands use dark posts to get their messages across. In fact, some smarter brands actually use dark posts more often than visible public posts.

Quite simply, a dark post is a dedicated paid message designed for a very specific audience and not openly and widely shared on an organic channel.

We’ve recommended dark posts to many of our clients because they possess unique powers in the “Paid First” world of social media marketing. Dark posts are an open secret that few marketers and agencies talk about publicly because they’re kind of, just kind of, a little bit… creepy.

Creepiness aside, they also happen to be very effective.

Here’s the harsh truth— organic posts, as lovely and honest and wholesome as they might be, aren’t seen by a brand’s followers. One oft-cited stat says organic reach for Facebook posts are as low as 2 percent. The best brands know that, and operate under that assumption every day.

In fact, the hidden secret behind the success of many brands is — and will continue to be — extensive use of Dark Posts. It’s core to what’s called growth hacking in an age where social is the most powerful media.

Dark posts go by many different names, depending on the platform. On Facebook, they’re called unpublished page posts. On Twitter, promoted-only Tweets. LinkedIn formally brands them as Direct Sponsored Updates.

But whatever you call them, know that they adhere to another truth that some brands won’t admit to themselves: Followers do NOT need to see every single post on every single social media channel.

Brands use them for several reasons, but here are three of the smartest:

  1. TEST your creative before a large spend.
  2. CUSTOMIZE different products, messages and content for different audiences. Think of it as a sophisticated game of mix and match.
  3. LOCALIZE to ensure events and experiences get the proper geographic reach they deserve.

Those aren’t the only ways to use dark posts, and some brands use them more or less depending on their specific needs.

Across these ideas, be creative and differentiate from competition. Dark posts create a competitive blind spot, and if done well, your competitors won’t see how active you are.

Dark posts may seem unseemly, but they actually aren’t. And for many brands, they’re the primary way to create impressions and generate clicks well above and beyond that wholesome-yet-ineffective organic strategy.

There are some changes on the horizon for dark posts that may change the conversation a bit for brands looking to leverage this tool. But for now, one thing is clear: any social media strategy that relies heavily on organic growth is destined to fail. Another thing is clearer: a paid strategy that includes dark posts is more often than not a winning one.

Steve King (steve.king@peppercomm.com) is a Senior Director of Digital Strategy. He develops integrated marketing programs for B2C and B2B clients that focus on measurable results.

 

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