Dark Social Has Transformed the Buyer’s Journey

Buyers are no longer entering traditional sales funnels, they are using dark social, zero-click content, and influencers to find and buy products.

“Marketers that continue to copy the Salesforce playbook from 2006 for their 50-person SaaS company will continue to struggle. Nobody in a growth phase can help with this strategy anymore.” (Chris Walker)


It’s no secret the marketing world is constantly changing, and as marketers, we need to stay on top of the changing trends. The evolution of the internet means buyers have changed their approach to purchasing decisions. So, your strategy has to evolve if you want a successful marketing campaign. This brings us to using dark social in your marketing mix. 


Thanks to this week’s podcast episode, you have a great place to start. True Native Media founder Heather Osgood sat down with the CEO and founder of Refine Labs to talk about how dark social is changing the game of marketing.


Keep reading to find out how focusing solely on what’s capturing demand is hindering your marketing campaign.

people leaning against a wall, using their phones to share content through dark social

What is dark social?

Dark social is a term that refers to the different word-of-mouth channels buyers might use to share ideas, validate decisions, or discover new products not tracked by attribution software.

When someone takes a post, messages it to someone else, or shares your content with another person on apps with strict privacy policies.

Ultimately, there are various ways consumers can share information about your product that you cannot track.

Typically, companies would see this and think there’s nothing they can do about dark social and pour more money into their existing marketing strategy – but Chris has other ideas. So instead of pretending dark social doesn’t exist, you can use it to your advantage.


Consumers generally trust their peers over anyone else regarding buying decisions. So, dark social shouldn’t be something you’re afraid of, but instead something you embrace.

But if I can’t measure dark social, how does it help me?

Most marketing tools out there focus on capturing data. As marketers, that’s what we’re most comfortable with. But that doesn’t mean it’s the only thing we should review.


“What we need to start looking at is what is capturing the demand vs. what is creating the demand… all the things that make up dark social are things you’re not able to effectively measure because they’re creating demand, not capturing it.” (Chris Walker)


Focusing solely on the data pulled from capturing demand means your marketing strategy is not as effective as it could be. For example, we can estimate that around 99% of your market is not ready to buy at one time, and only 1% is. By only focusing on that 1%, you’re leaving that remaining 99% open to your competitors.

How do I target the remaining 99% of my market?

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again – a successful marketing campaign cannot be measured by only looking at the conversion goal. Building brand awareness is just as essential to marketing.


It takes many different impressions before a consumer is ready to buy, but it might also take their friend or favorite podcast host saying, “hey, this product is great,” before they finally pull the trigger.

Talk To Your Customers About How They Found You

“Something I find fascinating… is the idea of conversing with customers feels uncomfortable for many marketers.” (Heather Osgood)


Talking to your customers means phone calls, surveys, or buttons that ask the customer how they heard about your brand. These are ways to measure the success of your brand awareness strategy. Marketers tend to be uncomfortable with this because they fear that no one will respond or elicit a negative response, but that conversation is part of the job.

“Most people do customer research with the intent of having the customer validate what they already think.” (Chris Walker)

It would be nice if all customer research came back with customers singing praises about your current marketing efforts, but that would make your job too easy. Listening to your customers can take discipline and years to perfect, but it’s important to remember you’re only after the truth.

Use Customer Research As Validation For Using Dark Social

The results from your customer research can then be used to justify marketing campaigns that maybe didn’t hit the conversion goal. A client advertising on a podcast might be upset because they only reached half their conversion goal, but if they’re getting an overwhelming number of customers saying they heard about their brand from that podcast, it’s still a successful campaign.

marketing considers podcasting as poart of dar social because it is hard to track

How do I justify dark social as part of my marketing strategy?

“Nobody gives a f*** about your attribution report until you’ve missed your targets.” (Chris Walker)


A considerable part of marketing is trying different strategies to see what works and doesn’t. But it is scary when you have to justify a dark social approach to executives. So what do you say if it doesn’t work?

Align Your Executive Team

One way to break this cycle is to align with your executive team on your goals and to track your success in demand generation instead of conversion rate. Then, look at revenue created through your website. That means even if you aren’t seeing those conversations yet, people are still saying, “hey, I want to buy this,” which is the cornerstone of effective marketing.


It can seem especially difficult to justify podcast advertising because conversions can be hard to track. It can be easy to say that since you can’t know for sure who’s listening or downloading an episode, you can’t say specifically who your ad is hitting, and that makes podcast advertising ineffective. One thing to keep in mind, is that podcast advertising is very similar to Influencer Marketing and can therefore be measured the same way. 


This is when you have to lean into using dark social. Chris gave a great example of a LinkedIn post with a video that has 276,000 views. 841 of those people liked the post, which means that 0.4% of viewers engaged with the post. If your marketing strategy is focused solely on data from capturing demand, you’re only targeting 841 people, leaving the remaining 275,159 to your competitor.

Move Out Of Your Comfort Zone

As marketers, it’s easy to become consumed with channels and be comfortable with the marketing data we’re used to – but that won’t make you a good marketer. Staying in your comfort zone and doing what you’ve been doing for years won’t resonate with the consumer. Buyers are changing how they make purchasing decisions, and the only way to keep up with this change is to switch up your marketing strategy. Being a good marketer means taking risks, and your subsequent risk might be leaning into dark social.

If you are interested in buying podcast ads but have no idea where to start, read this article, Podcast Advertising Best Practices Every Marketer Should Know, and contact us at truenativemedia.com.


If you find this content helpful, you will enjoy this article: 4 Ways Advertisers Buy Podcast Ads

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