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Dark social is traffic to your website that comes from sources that can’t be tracked in your analytics.

Every time you share a link in Messages.app, or Snapchat, or in a private chat room, you are engaging in dark social.

These conversations can’t be indexed by search engines. Your links open up directly in the browser and don’t have any referral data. Marketers are somewhat worried because the amount of traffic coming from dark social is increasing.

What does this mean for you as a creator? Well, a lot of things. It really just harkens back to the principles of word of mouth. We will revisit 7 ways to encourage more word of mouth referrals in this episode.

But beyond just being aware that people are sharing links to your content in places that can’t be tracked, you should also be engaging with these people one-on-one as much as possible.

As things have become increasing automated and people are scheduling social media posts now, we are understandably yearning for personal interaction. Actually engaging with someone in real time, one-on-one, is incredibly powerful.

Of course, that kind of engagement doesn’t scale. But it doesn’t matter. You need to be doing the unscalable things.

Highlights, Takeaways, Quick Wins
  • Dark social is traffic to your website that comes from sources that can’t be tracked by your analytics.
  • Don’t automate too soon or too much.
  • When you send a message to someone directly, it means more to that person.
  • Time your ask for a referral just right—give value first, then ask.
  • Do something personal for one person and you could end up having a client for life.
  • If you’re only focusing on the things you can measure, you’re going to miss out.
  • If you want word of mouth referrals, surprise and delight people.
  • The more personal you can get, the more you’re going to be in the forefront of people’s minds.
  • If you want to dominate, people need to know you and hear your name frequently.
Show Notes
  • 05:06 Ben: I really like this topic, because I think a lot of people miss this idea of one-on-one engagement and how much that can impact their brand. This is especially true when they’re first starting out, but also when their brand grows beyond what they feel like would be their capacity for reaching out to individuals.

What Is Dark Social?

  • 05:31 Sean: Dark social is traffic to your website that comes from sources that can’t be tracked by your analytics. So, every time you share a link on the messages app, a text message, Snapchat, or in a private chatroom, you are engaging in dark social. It shows up as direct traffic, because there’s no referral site. The conversations that happen on what’s called dark social is content that cannot be indexed by search engines. The links you share in these places open up directly in a browser, and they don’t have any referral data, so marketers are somewhat worried right now.
  • 06:34 The amount of traffic coming from dark social is increasing and it’s not trackable, so they’re wondering where it’s coming from. Who’s sharing my stuff? They’re getting worried that they don’t know.
  • 06:48 Ben: I don’t know much about this, but I’m curious. If I share a link with someone in a message on Snapchat, can analytics track that, or is that considered dark social?
  • 07:05 Sean: That would be considered dark social. So would slack, messages, sometimes email—depending on how people receive their email, WhatsApp, Snapchat, and direct messages. Facebook doesn’t give you much referral data anyway, but especially in private groups, you’re going to see that it comes from Facebook but you won’t be able to find out where. You just don’t get that. This came from somewhere on Facebook… Was it a page? Was it a private group? Was it a message? Who knows?
  • 07:43 Membership sites, sometimes, private communities, in-app browsers, things like that. What does this mean for you as a creator? It means a lot of things, but it hearkens back to the principals of word of mouth referrals. What are the people who are spreading your stuff saying? Are they thinking about you? Do they have the right message to spread the word about you? Are you incentivizing those referrals? Are you asking for them? It’s basically people talking to each other. You can’t see it in your analytics, so you feel like it’s a scary, unknown thing.

Dark social is not super complicated, but you can’t track it.

  • 08:31 Ben: When I think about wanting to incentivize, I definitely want that word of mouth referral. If I don’t know where it’s coming from, I don’t know how to incentivize it because I can’t track it. It’s an enigmatic, “What do I do with this?” kind of thing.
  • 08:50 Sean: There are two aspects of dark social. One, there are people out there sharing your stuff, and there are other people and traffic coming from these sources that you can’t track. That’s one aspect. The other aspect is going and being there on these places, participating on dark social. You don’t call it dark social when you’re engaging in it—you just call it Snapchat, messages, being in a community, or whatever. I’m talking about actually being present there, engaging with people one-on-one, and doing the unscalable things.
  • 09:33 Have conversations with real people. Go on social media sites where the profiles are not public facing and talk with people one-on-one. You’ve got to be doing this. You have to be having one-on-one conversations. As things get increasingly automated, as more and more people are scheduling their tweets and social media posts, we are yearning once again for that personal interaction. Is this really you sharing this post? Is this really you talking back to me? We want that.

Engage With People

  • 10:18 Ben: I noticed in the most recent update of Snapchat that the button you press to go to your story or send it to individual people was a little bit more highlighted. It made me think, “I wonder what Snapchat is doing here?” It’s definitely more prominent than sharing straight to your story. It looks like they’re trying to encourage people to have more one-on-one interactions. Maybe there’s something to that. I started thinking about it a little bit more, and I posted something in the Community about the power of sending a message to someone directly.
  • 11:07 Sean: Can you summarize that? I think I missed it.

When you send a message to someone directly, as opposed to posting something valuable on your feed, it means more to that person.

  • 11:13 Ben: They’re more likely to take some kind of action or get value you intend for them to get out of it. When I shared that, someone in the Community brought up the question, “Aren’t the people who you follow the only ones on that feed? It’s not like you could necessarily message anybody.” That got me thinking more, too. There’s a lot of advice out there about curating your feed so you’re not following all of this noise. What if someone was consistently interacting with you and your brand, your content? Wouldn’t it be worth following them, bridging that connection, so you can have more one-on-one contact with them?
  • 12:25 Sean: You don’t have to follow someone to send messages. They don’t have to follow you to send messages. We’re talking specifically about Snapchat right now, but you can go in your privacy settings and allow messages from anyone. They can send a message to you and you can send a message back. You can send a message directly to them.
  • 12:45 Ben: I mean having the ability to do that very easily, with that person in mind, saying, “This person has really become a brand ambassador for me. I don’t want to depend on them sending me a message for me to be able to send them a message.” This is especially true if I’m creating something valuable and I have that person in mind. This leads me to my second thing. Rachel and I recently had a Skype call with some members in the seanwes Community about Family On Purpose, what we’re migrating In the Boat With Ben to, and it was amazing to have a conversation with this couple that has been very supportive of the work that we’re doing and who has ideas about what we can be doing going forward.
  • 13:33 I thought, “I couldn’t possibly get the kind of value I’m getting from this one-on-one interaction by blasting an email out or blasting something out on social and trying to get feedback that way.” This was super valuable to me, and it told me that I want to do as much as I can to identify who those people are and build as strong of a connection to them as I can. As my brand grows, I may not be able to reach every single person that way.

I want to invest my time in someone who’s invested, who wants to see my brand grow and help other people.

  • 14:19 Sean: I was watching one of Gary Vaynerchuck’s Daily Vee episodes, his Vlog. He was in a cab or something, and he had his headphones in, calling people. He said, “A three minute phone call can make such a huge difference.” You don’t think about it that way. You schedule things in 30 minute chunks or one hour chunks, but he has mastered things to where he schedules things for three, five, or eight minutes. One time, I was watching one of his #AskGaryVee episodes, and someone was telling him that he has to go. He said, “Ten minutes,” and it was something like nine minutes and 50 seconds that he wrapped it up.
  • 15:10 He’s very, very attuned to actual minutes. I was really impressed by that. I’ve also seen results from spending just a few minutes talking with someone personally. A lot of people are trying to automate too much way too soon. You’re small right now—you’ve got 70 followers, 100 followers, 400 followers, 4,000 followers, or 40,000 followers, so you think you’re a big deal and you try to automate everything you’re doing. You’re losing the personal aspect. Gary understands the impact of even the shortest, tiniest little message. That’s why anyone who’s been following him for any amount of time, if they’ve been engaging, has almost certainly heard from him personally.
  • 16:01 This is a guy with over a million followers. That’s incredible. You look at any post he makes anywhere, and he goes in there, in the comments, and types out, “Thanks,” smiley face, or, “Appreciate you.” These small things aren’t scalable. You’re not doing it with your 4,000 followers, but he’s doing it with over a million. He understands doing the unscalable and the importance of that.

Building One-on-One Interactions Into Your Business

  • 16:26 If you’ve decided in your mind that you’re not going to be part of what we were saying about Snapchat, that it’s not for you, then understand that what we’re talking about is people. These are just tools. We’re talking about connecting personally with people, creating an experience, and investing in their lives.
  • 16:48 Yes, it does translate to sales. Yes, I have made thousands of dollars from Snapchat conversations that I’ve had with people, but it’s not just about that immediate ROI. You don’t know where that goes beyond that. On the topic of dark social, you don’t know who that person then turns around and talks to on some message that you can’t see on a public feed. When we say dark social, this is anything from your messages app to Snapchat to a private Facebook group—anything that’s not directly indexable by search engine, that you can’t track. That’s dark social. Dark social is increasing at a rampant rate.
  • 17:36 It has already surpassed social media in its public form. I think about a lot of the people that I know, and most people are not public personas. They don’t get on Twitter every day and post a new blog post, video, or share their latest thoughts. They message people. They’re in private groups, they have private profiles, and they send messages amongst each other. They consume. They follow everyone else.

As soon as you flip the switch from consumer to producer, you position yourself as an influencer.

Everyone is consuming, but not everyone is creating.

  • 18:21 The vast majority of people are pretty scared to put themselves out there. If you’re someone who creates—you do a Vlog, you do a podcast, you write, you put yourself out there—you’re an anomaly. Most people are very scared of that, and you have to remember that. When you try to automate all of your interactions with people, realize that there’s an added degree of separation there. Do you really want to automate the reaching of 100 people, or do you want to personally reach out to ten? The latter might have a much more significant impact.
  • 19:01 Ben: I think we’re not just talking about the return on the investment, because it’s not always immediately apparent what that’s going to be. We’re talking about setting a precedent and saying, “We’re small now, but we’re going to do this. This is going to be a part of our DNA, regardless of how big we get.” That doesn’t mean that you can reach out to every person personally. That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about making this kind of contact with people an essential part of your business. If you do, it will be for as long as you’re in business.

“But the Posts Expire!”

  • 19:55 Sean: Snapchat is the biggest example we’re using right now, because it’s the most prominent example of rising dark social. Get the concept here. If you’re not sold on Snapchat, if you think it’s dumb or you think it’s not for you, that’s fine, but you’re missing out if you’re just tuning out here. We’re talking about something bigger—we’re talking about people. People get caught up thinking, “Don’t the posts expire in 24 hours? What’s the point?” I haven’t ever really addressed that, but I’m realizing that same mentality applies to one-on-one interactions.
  • 20:35 “Why would I send an individual email to this one person when I could send a blast? I could email a ton of people? Why would I direct message this one person who’s interested and a loyal follower when I could post a tweet and reach everyone? That doesn’t get replicated. It’s not reused over and over again—it just goes away.” What doesn’t go away is that person’s memory of that experience.
  • 21:02 Ben: Have you ever had a conversation with somebody that was not recorded on anything that impacted your life, that changed it, that made it better or different in some way?
  • 21:13 Sean: Probably most of the experiences people have had like that were off the record.
  • 21:22 Ben: They weren’t recorded with your phone’s audio recorder. Nobody had a video camera and shared that with you later. There wasn’t somebody writing it down.
  • 21:37 That’s even less than 24 hours. On Snapchat, you have 24 hours. You can go back and watch things over and over again. That conversation happened in the moment, and you’re saying that it has the ability and potential to change your life? If that’s possible, why are we even worried about how long those messages last or how long we have access to them?
  • 22:02 Sean: Because we want to automate everything. We’re addicted to it. We’ve seen the benefits of scale that the internet provides, and we want that with everything. We don’t want to lift a finger unless it can reach a million people. Why would I make a video for 100 followers or ten subscribers? Is it going to go viral or not? That’s all we care about, much less make a video for one person. Imagine if you did that. You’ve got some good clients? What if you made a video just for them, a private video?
  • 22:42 You spent an hour making a four minute video for this one client. That’s not very scalable, but you know what? Maybe they become a client for life. What is that worth? What if you spent four hours and created four videos? What if you spent a whole day, created a bunch of videos, and sent them to your clients? Most of them didn’t respond or said, “Hey, thanks for thinking of me,” but the one person was so blown away that you made a personal video for them and called them out by name that they said, “I want to work with you.”
  • 23:17 You worked with them in the past, so you say, “Hey, I just wanted to say thanks for the opportunity to work with you. I just updated my case study, and I’ve always been really proud of this project I did for you and really enjoyed working for you. If anyone was ever wondering what went into the design process, I wanted to share this with you. Also, I’m sending you a care package. It should be there in a couple of days. A little thank you, and I hope you enjoy the holidays.”

Do something personal for one person, and you could end up having a client for life.

  • 23:50 Ben: You could have more than just a client for life. When people have experiences like that, they share those experiences with others who are looking for that level of service. You’re opening up the possibility of referral business as well.
  • 24:06 Sean: You’re creating a story. That’s what I did with Mike. He was sending me videos on Snapchat, and I called him on video on Snapchat. Again, I ranted on this in a recent episode on Snapchat (Related: e260 “Old” is a Mindset: How to Avoid Getting Left Behind). The reason I’m all in on Snapchat is because, when you strip away the name, the yellow color, the ghost, the branding, and the user interface, what you have is every possible way to connect with another human.
  • 24:40 You can type. You can draw. You can take a photo. You can send a video clip. You can send an audio clip. You can call on audio, live. You can call on video, live. Any way you want to interact—it’s the most human network I’ve ever seen. Nothing else makes it so seamless. It’s the closest thing you can get to being in person with another human. In the next episode, we’re going to talk about virtual reality. That’s not just some scifi thing that’s way in the future. We’re going to talk about why it’s important for you now, why it matters.

Virtual Reality

  • 25:31 A lot of people are hiding right now. You’re watching us. You’re in your pajamas. Maybe you don’t have pants right now, and that’s fine. It’s your house, you can do that. It’s your computer, your device. You don’t have to be in public right now. You can just watch us, but we are on camera. We are putting ourselves out there, and that’s why you’re watching us. You’re watching us because we put ourselves, virtually, out in public for the whole world today. We’re in our house, but virtually, we’re putting ourselves out there for the whole world. Think about this.
  • 26:08 Virtual reality is going to strip back any limitations. You’re hiding right now. Eventually, virtual reality is going to allow you to be in a place, virtually, with other people, and it’s all going to come back down to how you represent yourself in person. You can be represented by a digital avatar. Maybe you don’t have to fix your hair—that can be all digital, but how you present yourself, how you talk, interact, sell, and deal with real humans… It’s virtual, but there’s another real human on the other side of that, controlling it.
  • 26:50 If you don’t get comfortable putting yourself out there or having these real human interactions, you’ll get left behind. You will be made irrelevant. You’re comfortable right now because you can tweet something. You can sit on your toilet with your iPhone and you can type a message and send it out on Twitter, and nobody knows. That’s comfortable to you. You can’t do a live video chat. We’ll talk more about that in that episode.

Word of Mouth Referrals

  • 27:37 This is just human interaction. That’s all it is. Dark social is just human interaction. It happens to not be trackable. Don’t be afraid of that. You know what else isn’t trackable? Word of mouth referrals. It’s just not trackable. Number one, you’ll get a few people to say who referred them, and it might be accurate, but you don’t know what else they were exposed to before that pushed them over the edge. I ask people all the time, “What made you become a member?” Almost every time, they have to think about it for a minute.
  • 28:16 It’s very rarely one thing. It’s a bunch of things, coming at different angles at different times, and eventually, something clicked. Something made them make the decision. Maybe, in this case, it was a person referring someone. Maybe someone actually told them about your service, but they had already heard about your service and they were already going to make a decision. They think, “Well, I’m not going to say that James referred me, because I had already made a decision.” You can’t track word of mouth, so get over the fact that you think you can and realize that you can’t. Does that mean that you should ignore word of mouth? Of course not.
  • 28:58 That’s the most powerful form of marketing. You have personal ambassadors! It’s real. People trust other people’s reviews, opinions, and advice. Don’t ignore word of mouth just because you can’t track it. Similarly, you shouldn’t ignore all of these places where people are talking about you. You can’t search Google and say, “Show me all the results for my name and my business name in the past week. Find all the blog posts.” You can find the public ones, but you can’t find all of the conversations. You can’t find the direct messages, chats, text messages, or conversations in real life.
  • 29:37 If you’re not purposefully investing in them, you’re significantly going to miss out. We had an episode quite a while back, episode 179, called 7 Ways to Encourage More Word of Mouth Referrals. Go back and listen to this episode, and you have to be a seanwes member to do that. That’s one more reason to sign up for membership. I’ll give you a few of the ways from that episode.

Actually ask for a referral—it’s the most obvious way to get a referral that most people don’t do.

  • 30:24 I want to tailor this word of mouth thing to dark social. How does asking for a referral apply here? The next time you’re having a conversation with someone on messages, Facebook, WhatsApp, or on Snapchat, and they say, “I just really hate my job,” I want you to think of seanwes. I want you to say, “You’ve got to listen to this show, seanwes podcast. You’ve got to check out seanwes tv. You should become a seanwes member. The resources there will change your life. You’ll be able to start your own business, enjoy your work again, start marketing yourself. You’ll learn everything you need to know about business at seanwes.”
  • 31:08 Someone says, “I want to start my own business. I’m out of school, and I don’t know if I should go the traditional route. Everyone, all my peers and my parents, are saying that I should go to college, but I don’t know. Should I go to college? I’ve started my own business on the side and I’m actually making money. I can support myself. Should I keep doing that? How can I maximize that? How can I get the most out of my business?” seanwes. You’re having a personal conversation with someone, off the record, at a coffee shop, and they say, “I really want to start my own business. I’ve been thinking about doing my own thing, trying out freelance.” seanwes.
  • 31:50 We have the resources for you here. For everything you want to know about client work, we have the resources for you. I want you to refer people to my materials. This is me asking for your referral. This is what you need to do. Actually ask people to refer you. That’s just one way to encourage more word of mouth referrals. Two, time your ask for a referral just right—give value first, then ask. That’s the Rule of Reciprocity. We gave a bunch of value in this show. It’s free, but it takes a lot of money to keep the lights on. Bandwidth, streaming, cameras, and recording costs us money.
  • 32:34 Paying Cory’s salary to switch the cameras costs us money. This episode is going to get edited by Aaron Dowd. It’s going to have show notes written and a featured image illustrated. We’re going to send it over an email service provider that we have to pay. All of this costs us money to give to you. In today’s case, some people are watching live, for free. Since we’ve given them value, they get to sit there in their pajamas, maybe without pants, and listen to this. We now have the opportunity to say, “Hey, would you refer someone to my stuff?”
  • 33:08 We have the right to ask for something. Time your ask right. You want a referral? Provide a great service, and then ask. Here’s one more way to encourage word of mouth, and this is a good one: surprise and delight.

If you want word of mouth referrals, surprise and delight people.

  • 33:31 That’s what we want. You open up a package and you say, “I didn’t even know there were buttons and stickers. I just ordered a print. I just ordered a t-shirt.”
  • 33:41 Ben: Or a hand-written note.
  • 33:43 Sean: Excellent example. Cory, can you remember a time recently when you bought something, anything, and you were surprised and delighted?
  • 33:54 Cory: Yeah, I can. I bought a shirt from my friend Terrence. That’s all I wanted and all I expected, but I got all this other stuff. I use it and see it everywhere now. It was pretty great. It was just free.
  • 34:10 Sean: I signed up for a live event, a live training, from Grant Cardone. Paid money. He streamed and taught for more than three hours. He didn’t even promise that much, but he did it, and I thought, “Wow, that was good value.” The next week, he said, “I have so much more that I want to share with you,” so he got on again, got out the whiteboard, and was writing numbers and teaching even more. He gave this bonus hour of recording without even asking.
  • 34:47 Ben: In the spirit of what we’re talking about today, I’ve recently heard the advice that, if someone purchases something from you, following up with a phone call to ask them about their experience with your product or service can increase the likelihood that they’ll refer you or that they’ll purchase from you in the future. Nobody does that. When was the last time you got a phone call from wherever you go shopping for stuff saying, “I saw that you recently purchased such-and-such. How is that working for you?”

Not All Good Things Are Measurable

  • 36:37 A few episodes ago, we talked about the reverse funnel. I read this article about optimization and how people get so focused on optimizing things and trying to make things as efficient as possible because there’s money to be saved in those details, in knowing where your referrals are coming from and looking at the data, all of those things. The problem is, that takes your energy and focus away from doing what really matters for your brand, which is creating an awesome product and experience. You get so much more return on your investment by focusing on those things than you do on optimizing, especially in the beginning.
  • 37:22 You shouldn’t even be thinking about optimizing until you’re big enough for those numbers to matter, until you’ve done all of those things to make your brand great.
  • 37:39 Sean: Then, still be aware that Gary Vaynerchuck is still doing all of it with over a million.
  • 37:45 Ben: He has room to optimize, and that’s fine. He can hire people to do that, but he can still do the unscalable things, which are really making his brand great.
  • 37:55 Sean: He could also hire people to go around and say thanks with smiley faces on all of the comments, but you know what? He doesn’t do it. That’s why one word, “thanks,” can mean so much. You know that it’s actually from him. That’s why he was using Twitter video to reply to people. He would reply in a video form, because it’s personal and it’s real. Not all good things are measurable. You’re not going to be able to measure all of those things, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a return.

If you’re only focusing on the things you can measure, you’re going to miss out.

  • 38:37 The things you can measure can make a big difference. They can have a big impact. You can scale things. You can automate, but don’t automate your voice and vision. Those are the two things that you can’t delegate. When it is your voice, it needs to be you. When it’s your vision, it needs to be you. It wouldn’t be right for someone to write a letter from the CEO, the CEO didn’t even write it, and send it to everyone. That was the one time we’re hearing from you personally! Everything else is the infrastructure you’ve created, your team, your people. The places where it’s your voice and your vision shouldn’t be delegated.
  • 39:24 Ben: That reminds me of printed hand-written signatures, or those envelopes that use a printed hand-written font. I’m not stupid. I’ll throw that thing right in the recycling.

Dominate the Forefronts of Peoples’ Minds

  • 40:08 Sean: You can blast all of your stuff on all these different platforms and people will think, “Okay, yeah, there he is,” but the more personal you can get, the more you’re going to be in the forefront of peoples’ minds. Imagine, Ben, if you reached out personally to someone you knew would benefit from your product or service and you recommended it, that could be the seventh magic time. They’ve seen the posts, but if you reach out personally, that could be what tips them over the edge. I’ve got this secret tactic, and I feel like it’s too much to give away.
  • 40:52 Ben: We talk about the Magic of 7, but we’re also talking about it in the context of something people passively, or maybe actively, encounter with your brand. When you have a personal one-on-one experience, I think about the meaningfulness of that and how it sinks in even deeper into their subconscious. Them reading a blog or watching a video might be worth one of the seven, but a personal one-on-one interaction with you is worth three or four of the seven. It’s worth more. It’s a different kind of currency in the Magic of 7.
  • 41:36 Sean: Think about depth, not width. To dominate and stay in the forefront of peoples’ minds, you have to be putting out content. That content, while wide and can reach a broad audience, isn’t necessarily deep. If you spend the time to engage with people personally, you are increasing that depth tremendously with that one person.
  • 42:09 Ben: The other stuff only goes as deep as they take it. When you have a one-on-one interaction, it goes as deep as you’re able to go with them personally. You have a lot more control over the depth of that interaction.
  • 42:22 Sean: You want people to think about you more. People buy from those they know, like, and trust. They need to hear your name and see your name every day in all of the places that they go. Why do you think Coca Cola and McDonalds advertise so much? They spend billions of dollars on advertisements. You’re aware of them. You go in a movie and there it is. You walk outside, and there’s a vending machine. There are cans in the store taking up an entire shelf. There are billboards and apps. There’s so much because they want to dominate.
  • 43:05 You think soda. What’s the first soda that comes to your mind? Probably your favorite. What’s a popular soda? Coca Cola. Popular fast food restaurant? Boom, McDonalds. They dominate your mind. I’m not interested in Coca Cola or McDonalds, but I know about them. If I’m on a road trip, I look at my map, and there’s no Starbucks around, but there’s a small town coming up and I see a McDonalds, I know that they have coffee. I will actually go into McDonalds and buy from them because I know them. If there’s some little shop I don’t know, I just don’t know. Maybe it’s great. Maybe it’s a fantastic local place, but I don’t know.

If you want to dominate, people need to know you and hear your name frequently.

  • 44:07 When they go to make that purchase, it’s not the first time they’ve heard about you. It’s all their other experiences with you wrapped up to culminate in this one moment. Something is going to tip it over the edge, but there’s so much more weight behind that.