What we share in the shadows

Irish marketers need to wake up to the rise of social sharing through private channels, according to a new survey from MediaCom.

*This article was first published in The Sunday Business Post on October 15th. 

While most people think of Facebook when it comes to sharing content, the newsfeed has become a channel of mass reach as it has been shaped to boost Facebook’s commercial streams rather than just help conversation.

Alexis C. Madrigal, senior editor at the Atlantic, coined the term “dark social” to describe the sharing of content that occurs outside what can be measured by web analytics programmes.

This mostly occurs when a link is shared via online chat or email, rather than shared over social media platforms, from which referrals can be measured.

The survey found that while 66 per cent of Irish people share content on Facebook, four of the top five platforms used to share online content private communication (dark social) channels-emails, WhatsApp, text, Facebook messenger.

Ina McGrath, managing director of MediaCom Ireland said: “the volume of content being shared away from sight, on dark social channels, is something which can’t be ignored. Monitoring what is being shared on Facebook and other public platforms is only one piece of the puzzle in understanding how content travels and is consumed.”

Young people (16 to 34-year-olds) are the most likely to share things they’ve seen online on every platform, with the exception of email and text and iMessage. Those aged over 55 are more likely than other age cohorts to share online content via email (75 per cent) and text (57 per cent).

Some 63 per cent of people said the main reason they used “dark social” channels was to maintain privacy, according to the survey, which was commissioned by MediaCom Ireland and the sharing analytics company RadiumOne. This rose to nearly three quarters of over-55s (74 per cent), who expressed the greatest concerns.

The survey was carried out among 1,281 consumers using iReach’s consumers decisions panel. It found about 29 per cent of ‘dark social users’ use these channels for sharing content they deem to be ‘for smaller groups’.

Another 29 per cent share content privately for entertainment: 42 per cent in the 16-to-34 age bracket; 35 per cent of 35 to 54-year-olds and just 10 per cent of over 55s. Young people are also twice as likely (11 per cent compared to 5 per cent) as the 35-to-54 cohort to make fun of someone or something via private channels. Only 3 per cent of those over 55 said they were likely to do this.

Certain channels attract particular kinds of content. RadiumOne data shows that arts and entertainment content is more broadly shared, while personal finance and property content are solely shared by one-to-one means such as WhatApp, text or email. Word of month recommendations and reviews are also more likely to take place on private channels, after purchase.

A quarter of Irish adults share content privately after making a purchase and 22 per cent share content before making a purchase. Meanwhile, on public social media channels, 18 per cent share content after purchase and 14 per cent pre-purchase.

Vicky Shekleton, planning and insights manager at MediaCom Ireland, said: “This study highlights that we need to think beyond Facebook when considering what content drives conversation and sharing. We now know that users share and consume different content across different private and public channels and there is opportunity to differentiate marketing messages.”

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