Relatively ordinary terms can take a turn for the dramatic when someone slaps a splashy adjective on them. Take the word “dark,” for instance. There’s all sorts of unobserved and unidentifiable stuff floating around in outer space, but it sounds so much more impressive when we call it dark matter. Ditto for dubbing the dire psychological conditions of Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy the dark triad.
The unregulated corners of the Internet concerned mostly with utter autonomy (think peer-to-peer file sharing and anonymity networks) have gotten called the dark web. And that brings us to another related “dark” term: dark social. Like our previous examples, dark social sounds pretty impressive, but it merely describes the sorts of social-media activity not captured by typical online analytics. Simple stuff, really, but it has its interesting angles. One of them is that SMS comprises a huge part of dark-social traffic.
Consider the case of BuzzFeed, the super-popular Internet news source. From serious stories to silly quizzes, BuzzFeed thrives on creating copious amounts of content—and on having users share it with friends and family. That’s why it created the BuzzFeed News app for smartphones in 2015. Mobile-friendly formatting. Big, splashy graphics. Lots of share buttons. The app had everything it needed to succeed. Interestingly, though, alongside recognized social-media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, the BuzzFeed News app’s share section also had a button that allowed users to shoot attractively designed story links to their friends via SMS.
That got Neiman Journalism Lab’s Joshua Benton wondering about what kind of an impact SMS might have in such a situation. “Among Facebook, Twitter, and texting,” he says, “I think conventional wisdom would be that Facebook’s the most popular (the goliath!), Twitter next (the one all the journalists are on!), and SMS third.” But that wasn’t the case with BuzzFeed. Managing editor Stacy-Marie Ishmael revealed that SMS actually surmounted the two social-media giants, coming out on top. “The popularity of SMS surprised us, too (so we made sure we made that experience great),” she told Benton. It’s surprised more than her. In 2012, The Atlantic’s Alexis C. Madrigal found that the website owed more than half its traffic to dark social.
It seems that this secret side of social communication has an outsized impact. That’s what Econsultancy’s Patricio Robles thinks. Following up on the BuzzFeed case, he urged media-based business to give SMS a second look. “Given just how important social channels like Twitter and Facebook are for many publishers and marketers, data suggesting that SMS is an even more favored channel for sharing, at least in some cases, should raise eyebrows. And it should encourage more publishers and marketers to give SMS a try.” But I’d like to go farther than that.
I’ve shared with you how businesses of every stripe—from real estate and education to charities and contractors—can make SMS work for them. So don’t concern yourself too much with the above articles’ media-centric focus. People share all sorts of things via their phones, and one of the things they could be sharing is the latest snippet from your SMS marketing campaign, especially if it’s witty and engaging. It may just be time for you to go dark and get back in black with SMS messaging.