In light of Apple releasing its so-called ‘WhatsApp for Business’ this week, here’s a relevant piece from my upcoming book ‘Win Dark Social! Win The Internet!’ about the different ways in which companies and brands can think about using ‘Dark Social’ to connect with customers.
1 - Becoming a ‘Helpful New Friend’ on Whats App
One service that has huge potential for private social networks is the idea of a ‘helpful friend’. Imagine being stuck in a strange city and needing directions, or a tip for the nearest good restaurant. You could Google this information. But you’re not guaranteed to find the exact results in the exact way that you want them. What if, instead of Googling, you could chat on WhatsApp with a real local person who could give you real, human and specific advice?
2 – Quizzes and Games
When people become part of a long-term private social network, they form strong bonds. These bonds can unite them together as a single unit – and what better way to make the most of this than offering them the chance to work together to play games against other teams from all over the world? Here at Frictionless, we’ve already had considerable success with our ‘No Googling’ sports quizzes which usually run on Fridays.
Introducing games presents a tricky question for app-makers as well as its users. Users might embrace them, or they might suddenly feel this is the beginning of the end of their ‘privacy’ and flee to a different service. The company management might similarly feel that they are betraying their core interests of being ‘pure’ messaging services. It’s apparent that some companies have tried to introduce games into a private messaging world, but to what end?
Reactions to this may depend on both the service and cultural differences: the popular Japanese chat service Line, for example, has three different ways of making money. A games platform in which players can play games for free but pay for extra in-game purchases; a stickers and symbols-buying service which, in the home of manga and the emoji, is not a complete surprise, and a celebrity sponsorship service in which celebrities are paid to push out certain promotional messages across the service. Published reports from 2013 alone indicate that Line was generating 50% of its income from in-app gaming purchases, and another 30% from the users acquiring the stickers. It should also be noted that there are several statistics pointing at Japan as having the largest percentage of paid-app consumers of any first world country. Similarly, in South Korea, the owners of Kakao Talk were able to generate significant extra revenue through a colour-matching game that was installed as a feature of the service. In China, the popular messaging service WeChat also has a pay functionality. While this may create interest and revenue in Asia, the question remains as to whether it would work in the United States or continental Europe. The answer is yes, possibly, but it all depends on what the user wants when he or she acquires the service in the first place. For example, the introduction now of games and purchasable emojis on WhatsApp may raise eyebrows among long-term users. We’ve seen the history of social media littered with the carcasses of once-popular networks such as Myspace and Bebo – the loyalty that people may feel towards them is probably best described as fickle. So if long-term users of a service suddenly find themselves inundated by advertising or requests to buy, they may not stick around too long.
Facebook has managed this – to a degree. It still receives fairly common moans from users about its advertising and the algorithms it uses, but the reality is that they are, in fact, extremely sophisticated and rigorous. Facebook advertisers have to pass all sorts of criteria for their ads to be approved. If they break the site’s stringent code of conduct, they may find their account permanently disabled.
3 – Research
Private social networks are a great opportunity to do successful market research or conduct focus groups. We’ve done this on many occasions – in the fields of health, entertainment and fashion for example. People are much more likely to feel honest in giving their opinions knowing that they are in a closed group with no consequences. After all, they are already in an open and sharing frame of mind by virtue of the fact they are already using the service. There is a massive opportunity in this if the framework is right.
4 – Coupons and offers
A highly targeted coupon or offer which appeals directly to the recipient is likely to be a very attractive offering within Dark Social marketing. We know for a fact from our White Paper research that users are keen to interact with brands, if the approach and offer is made correctly.
5 – Make your Dark Social irresistible
If you are a large multinational brand and looking to create a new set of followers on Dark Social media, then you are going to have to make it as easy as possible, and as exciting as possible, for people to join. How could you do that? What are the things about your organisation or brand that people really, really like, and how can you maximise that? If you are a brand that has a number of celebrity spokespeople, can you leverage that by having small groups who can have exclusive time with them on the likes of WhatsApp? At Frictionless, we are already doing this with sports stars and the appetite from the consumer has been significant. You could create the equivalent of a Twitter Q & A or a Reddit AMA, which are hugely popular. But even if you can do this, you will need to think of the associated constraints – the celebrities will have only a limited amount of time. Should they repeat the process by doing short ten-minute sessions? And even if they do participate, how much information of ‘value’ are celebrities going to be willing to impart? If it’s just bland information that is the equivalent of a standard press release or conference, then the excitement may soon wear off. And will the celebrities themselves have to be trained in how to act in a Dark Social environment?
Moving on from the celebrities or influencers you may wish to use in any campaign, you’ll need to think about how ‘live’ your proposition will be. Are you going to run a Dark Social service 24 hours a day? How much additional work is this going to create? Will you need to staff-up, or are you simply going to land this extra workload on your existing social media department? It’s fairly common for large brands to publicise the fact they are running their Twitter feeds during normal working hours, for example, but does Dark Social require a different approach and need to be available 24/7/365?
As well as the implication on workload, you’ll need to give careful thought to the content you are creating. Ideally, you will have, or will work with, a creative team who can create the kind of ‘compelling’ content that can get people really excited within your Dark Social environment and talk about that content in the wider world.
6 – Making it as easy as possible to share information
You may have started noticing a new addition to the type of ‘share now’ buttons that are ubiquitous on the web. Along with share to Facebook or Twitter, it’s becoming increasingly common for content providers to give people short URLs to allow content to be shared on the likes of WhatsApp. It’s a clever strategy – making it as easy as possible for people to share content in an environment in which they feel completely relaxed. Once the content is distributed, companies can then measure its success through analytics, and deliver more of the type of content people want. This is especially useful for organisations with an established fan base – sports being a prime example, where fans want stats, information and stories.
7 – Dark Social information is more ‘trusted’
If people are looking for a film to see this weekend, or a hotel to stay in on their next holiday, there are plenty of review and advice sites to help them. But most of the time users have to wade through a lot of information that is irrelevant to their needs. It can take a long time to find the exact information they are looking for and, even when they find it, it might have a certain bias. But this doesn’t happen on Dark Social. They can ask friends or family or trusted sources for honest, unfiltered opinions, and act on those opinions. The challenge is – how can organisations or companies infiltrate these private ‘walled gardens’ without appearing invasive or annoying people? How can they become a ‘trusted source’?
8 – Being Human. One-to-one vs One-to-many services
As we have pointed out on more than one occasion, private messaging networks are where internet users are at their most ‘human’ in terms of communication. Barriers are down, they are usually talking to trusted sources, and there is little fear of being misconstrued or creating lasting damage through a slip of the keyboard. This idea of being ‘human’ is also vital for organisations in the next era of online growth. This is more than just randomly sending emails to bloggers who may or may not be able to generate any sort of influence. It’s also more than a ‘chat now’ box appearing in the bottom corner of a website (I don’t think I have ever had a timely or useful corporate conversation using an online ‘live chat’ facility).
Not only do people buy from people, they want to build up a trust so that they can go back and buy from that same person again and again. And they want a relationship that is so special they can get a sense of pride out of recommending it to their friends or network. Let’s look at a personal example of how this could translate into a corporate environment that could help me: Why can’t I have a personalised private message group with my local rail service – I appreciate that trains don’t always run on time and I also appreciate they have a fairly well-run Twitter service. But it’s not always up-to-the-minute and they don’t always reply to my queries. Why can’t there be a small private group that could achieve this? It could be one-to-one or one-to-many: perhaps it could be full of other travellers from the same location who could share real-time information about what is happening on their part of the journey. This has some of the hallmarks of the traffic app Waze, but it could be expanded to many different key services and interests. And if we take this beyond services such as my rail network, and introduce it into being about something I might purchase or join, then we enter the realm of ‘conversational commerce’.
Of course, there are manpower implications, and therefore expenditure needed, for all of this to happen, as well as the simple requirement for companies not to get it wrong. They will need to gain specific permission from each user in order to establish a one-to-one relationship, and they will have to be careful not to abuse the relationship – as a Drum article in early 2016 explained, the danger is that our personal message boxes become something akin to our email junk folders.
9 - Conversational Commerce
There are already examples of companies using so-called ‘conversational commerce’ in order to communicate with customers or potential customers. If anything came out strongly from our 2017 focus groups for our White Paper, it was the loud and clear message from the younger users – the millennials – that they expect to be able to purchase in a Dark Social environment.
10 - Create Images, Gifs and visual content for people to acquire and share
In 2015, Line reported sales of over $250 million in stickers in Japan. While such activity has been a phenomenon in certain parts of Asia for some time, it saw something of an explosion in the West, and especially Europe, in 2016.
It’s become increasingly commonplace for Twitter feeds to contain gifs that react to an event or a comment from someone else. It’s also become noticeable in Dark Social – the right visual at the right time seems to capture what a person wants to say more succinctly and appropriately than text. The world is becoming increasingly visual – Snapchat, selfies, instagrams, emojis, gifs and images are a sign that we are moving towards an era when visual communication will challenge the dominance of the written language.
11 - Figure out a way to make Snapchat viable as a marketing tool
Snapchat is hugely popular with the youth market, and inevitably marketers have arrived in their droves to try and exploit it. But has this actually happened successfully? Can any company point to a successful ROI from a Snapchat campaign? What typically happens, as we’ve seen, is that the marketing companies in question hire (ie pay for) a number of ‘famous’ Snapchatters to promote their goods or service. This is likely to be a short-lived campaign with sudden spikes of interest – but there are countless examples of these sorts of efforts petering out. Older marketers often fail to grasp the nuances of the specific social network they are trying to infiltrate. As a result, the campaigns can have the wrong tone of voice or simply fail to appeal to their target market.
Most companies fail to understand the need for a continued campaign – a typical splashy Snapchat campaign is short-lived by its very nature. And if a company gains new followers through such a campaign, how do they profit from it and follow up on it?
12 - Create pop-up DSNs connected to the Internet of Things.
The soon-to-arrive/already here (depending on your point of view) ‘Internet of Things’ promises to make our lives much easier and more efficient: fridges that will know when we are running out of milk and will be able to automatically re-order at the right time. And we’ve already seen the birth of and positive welcome for Amazon’s Echo and Alexa service, which will undoubtedly prompt an improved response from existing services such as Apple’s Siri. But while all of this will hopefully improve the modern household, it also creates a number of new access points for anyone who wants to break in to steal security information. If you are trusting your bank account details to a fridge, for example, it’s going to have to be extremely secure – any breach of security is likely to turn people off from further engagement.
But while there are potential downsides, there are very interesting possible upsides. One example is IOT-based Dark Social networks. Let’s say you’ve bought a fridge which is connected to the Internet of Things. Now let’s say you are really, really into this fridge, and you’d like to discuss it with someone else. Or perhaps there is a feature on it that you can’t quite fathom. Or you want to talk to customer services at the fridge company about something to do with your new purchase. An IOT-based Dark Social network is something you can access either from the fridge itself, or it beams itself to your device (phone, iPad etc) and brings up an instant, secure chatroom that will allow you to talk specifically about the product or your needs.
13 - Create frictionless commerce
If you book a plane ticket via a website, then want to make changes to your reservation or part of your travel plans, you should be able to do this via your relevant contact or bot on the company’s messenger system. This will save you from having to root out your original ticket booking and going back to a website (which is a painful experience) and allowing you to do this in a very simple and clean way. Travel is just one example – the introduction of frictionless commerce can work for just about any service or product.
But companies will have to make sure that the addition of a messenger-type service is ‘additive’ to the overall interaction with the customer. If it is just there for the sake of it, or if it is just another step in the way of the customer buying, then it’s likely to be a turn-off. And the whole experience needs to be frictionless across whatever platform the end-user is using.
14 - Give links to flash sales and promotions that work through the likes of WhatsApp etc
If companies have something they know users would want – an unbeatable offer, or something extremely scarce – then Dark Social is a great place to launch the offer as it will actively help to promote customers joining their group becoming sharing advocates in exchange for something they really want.
15 - Creating VIP or Advocate groups
Advocates, or members of your ‘alpha audience’, are different from fans and casual followers. They actively promote you because they love something about you. It could be your core offering or the customer service you have that marks you out as different from everyone else in your field. Whatever it is, these are incredibly useful people to have on your side, and with a little pushing, prodding and incentivising they can really do a lot of good for you and your message.
And Dark Social is a perfect place to use them. You can create private groups just for your VIP followers. Make them feel special. Give them prior knowledge to certain things. Give them the equivalent of insider information. In other words, the special stuff. The better you make them feel, the more they will be happy to go out there and promote you. And if people buy from people, what stronger recommendation than from an existing fan? They could even run their own Dark Social groups and networks where their expertise and knowledge on a subject is leveraged as a valuable commodity to introduce or encourage other potential followers.