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Dark Social: Digital Word of Mouth

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“Dark social” isn’t as malicious as it sounds. The term was coined by Alexis Madrigal in an article for The Atlantic in 2012 to describe the sharing of information in emails and instant messengers – sharing that existed long before social media platforms were popular. Social media ROI is getting easier to measure, but dark social is more difficult. And it accounts for a huge portion of the referrals your website is probably getting.

When looking through your Google Analytics, you probably notice a large chunk of the referrals are listed in the “direct traffic” category. These hits can come from a variety of behind-the-scenes sources; a link shared through text, email, native mobile apps (like Facebook’s), messengers, Slack messages, Snapchat, and someone using a secure HTTPS browser all fall in this bucket. It’s word of mouth on the internet, but not the kind you can track easily through Facebook Insights.

The Struggle for Social Media Strategists

While it’s great to have so many avenues for your content to be shared, dark social adds to the struggle for social media teams in proving the value of what they do. If you can’t specifically show that these direct traffic hits are from people copying and sharing a link you put on Facebook, it’s tough to show true ROI. Social media marketers are under a lot of pressure to show concrete metrics, which is sometimes next to impossible. There’s no real way to say “yes, all of these direct traffic hits were from text messages sent in this market.”

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Dark social can also make optimizing content tough. Without knowing how the content is being shared specifically, marketers can’t design it for those platforms. These shares are likely hitting demographics that may not be on other social channels, like the 55 and older age group. When you can’t pin down the audience and the channel, it’s difficult to be strategic.

Shining the Light on Dark Social

So, what can PR pros and marketers do about dark social? Here’s a few things to focus on to get a better handle on this type of sharing:

  • Use Google Analytics’ customer URL builder. This can help with proving that your social sharing is driving dark social communication, and which posts are bringing in the most referrals. No matter where the link is clicked from, you’ll be able to see that it was that specific link you created for your latest Facebook post that brought visitors to the website.

 

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  • Invest in a tool made for dark social tracking, like st by Radium One.
  • Make shareable content a priority. Even when it’s hard to track, dark social is still sharing of your content. Make sure your social posts are shareable – find the emotional connection, keep text short, and include visuals whenever possible. You might not be able to optimize it for a Snapchat message, but you can still focus on creating content that resonates with your audience, no matter where they are.

What Public Relations Professionals Can Be Thankful For This Year

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For Americans, November is often considered a month of thankfulness. We’re thankful we get a day or two off work for Thanksgiving, we’re thankful to see family and friends, and we’re thankful to have the opportunity to over-indulge on comfort food while watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It’s a time to reflect on the past year and remember what we have to be grateful for while we look ahead to the new year.

For me, this extends to my career in public relations. The last year has provided a lot for PR pros to be thankful for amidst a sea of changes that will mean big things for the field in 2017. Here’s the three things I’m thankful for this year as public relations professional.

The Shift to “Micro”

Not too long ago, social media programs were seen as successful when you’d amassed thousands or millions of followers on each channel. It was a way to prove reach, and thus usefulness. This made it hard for smaller businesses to justify social media programs. Now, we’ve come to learn that having a ton followers doesn’t mean, well, much of anything. Especially with Facebook’s ever changing algorithm, followers don’t always translate to reach. The name of the game is now engagement.

Garnering authentic engagement from the followers you do have is proving to be much more worthwhile. “Micro” influencers in your industry, who may not have one million followers on Instagram, are a useful tool in reaching your target audience and creating engagement. As a public relations pro, this opens the door to creativity. When we’re not focused on creating messages for the masses and instead considering the individual, we can craft compelling, personal experiences that leave a lasting impression.

Work Life Balance

The “Mad Men” era of public relations and advertising is finally beginning to fall away. PR, marketing, and advertising used to be known as fields that dominated your lifestyle and required insane hours. Thankfully, this attitude is changing, and work-life balance is becoming an integral part of agency culture.

With the new Department of Labor overtime rules going into place December 1st, PR agencies that relied on a “churn and burn” culture among junior level staff will need to change course by either raising their pay, or paying overtime for those all-day-Saturday work days. PR still isn’t necessarily a 9 to 5 job (crises don’t happen on a schedule), but flexibility is now desired.  Quite a few agencies, especially those led by women, have already begun fostering a culture that encourages time away from the office and productivity over 80-hour work weeks. I’m thankful to work at A.wordsmith, where we prioritize hard work, but also time for our families and ourselves.

Snapchat Spectacles

Virtual reality in daily life might be commonplace in the next few decades, but we’re not there quite yet. However, 2016 made major strides toward this future, my favorite of which has been Snapchat’s launch of Spectacles.

Spectacles have been referred to as a cooler version of Google Glass, even if they’re not quite as extensive. The sunglasses come in colors and a shape that are right on fashion trends, and let wearers Snap “from their eyes” instead of their phones. When saved to the Memories feature on Snapchat, users can relive events in their life as they saw them before, rather than through a picture or video. There’s some privacy concerns with Spectacles, and they probably won’t do away with selfie culture, but the sunglasses could mean exciting things for how brands use social media and how important video will be in public relations plans. I’m thankful to be in an industry that will only become more important as we head into the future of digital.

I’ll be even more thankful if the Spectacles Bot vending machine decides to make an appearance in Portland so I can snag a pair.

What to Know About Instagram Stories

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The Controversy

Instagram’s unveiling of its “Story” feature caused some waves in the social media realm. Critics of the feature say Instagram is attempting to take over Snapchat’s specialty, a sentiment that was echoed by some Snapchat employees. Fans of the new tool believe that Instagram has improved upon Snapchat’s original story concept by making the feature more user-friendly. Snapchat and Instagram have a history, or rather, Instagram has a history of copying Snapchat. Mark Zuckerberg tried to buy Snapchat in 2013 for $3 billion—by informing Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel that Facebook was releasing an app identical to Snapchat in a few days. That app was Poke. Never heard of it? That’s because it failed. Snapchat said “no thanks” to Zuckerberg’s offer. Later in 2013, Instagram (owned by Facebook) launched the direct photo messaging feature, which is a close copy of Snapchat’s photo sharing concept. Why is Instagram copying Snapchat? Are they really just trying to improve their platform, or is this a way to knock Snapchat out of the game? You can decide that for yourself, see the video below for an in-depth breakdown of the Instagram vs Snapchat saga.

How Instagram Stories Work

Instagram users can post a story one of two ways, either by swiping to the left anywhere on the feed or by tapping the small plus sign in the left corner of their feed screen. Once the story is live, the viewers are determined by your profile’s privacy settings. If your Instagram profile is public then anyone can view your story. On private profiles, the viewers are restricted to those who follow your account. There is a way to hide your story from specific users if you want to be more selective. Instagram also has a section of its Help Page dedicated to Stories.

How Instagram Stories are Different

It’s worth noting that while Instagram Stories are different than Instagram videos and photos, they’re essentially identical to Snapchat Stories. Instagram stories function differently than Instagram videos. Stories disappear 24 hours after they have been posted (which is also the main comparison point between Instagram Stories and Snapchat Stories). Additionally, Instagram stories allow users to see who has viewed their video or picture. This is different than Instagram videos and photos, which only shows the number of likes and views, but not the specific users who viewed them.

So What?

In a world of constant updates, additions and platform restructuring, another social media change might be easy to overlook. However, it’s important not to do so. Regardless of the identical nature of Instagram and Snapchat stories, the Instagram’s new feature is likely to increase their appeal. An article by AdvertisingAge reports that the Instagram Story platform appeals more to brands because it allows for a more integrated strategy versus utilizing both Instagram and Snapchat platforms. Instagram is known for being brand-friendly and the addition of stories only made it more so. The story feature allows the sometimes faceless manager of the account to add a personal touch with their followers. The Instagram story is a new tool that can be utilized to strengthen brands and build connections.

Facebook Newsfeed Algorithm Updates – 3 Things to Know

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For a company not even two decades old, Facebook has done a fantastic job integrating itself into the daily lives of people around the globe. It quickly became a hot spot for brands looking to connect to a wide variety of audiences, and public relations professionals have been including the platform in their communications plans ever since. However, Facebook hasn’t made their job easy. After successfully positioning themselves as a requirement of nearly any brand’s PR, the social media giant has continuously made it harder for companies to reach their Facebook followers.

Despite keeping up the appearance of a brand friendly platform in recent years, Facebook’s frequent newsfeed algorithm changes have cut back on the reach that companies are able to achieve. Their most recent changes, announced June 29, 2016, will redirect social media users back to what Facebook says was its original intention – connecting with family and friends. Content on users’ newsfeeds will highlight posts from their friends and family, rather than posts from brands and pages. This is a stricter version of a change that has been happening since Facebook did away with its completely chronological newsfeed a few years ago.

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Here’s 3 things for communications pros to keep in mind with the new changes:

Shareable content is more important than total follower count

When users were guaranteed to see most of your page’s posts in their newsfeed, a simple “like” was enough to boost your reach. Now, more than ever, engaging content is the key to reaching your desired audience. Though your page’s posts will take more of a backseat on the newsfeed, there’s still ways to reach your targets through their friends and family. The content now given priority isn’t just posts from friends, it includes highlights of what they’ve commented on and shared. Engaging content is content that gets shared and discussed, and shared content reaches beyond your page followers. Focus on creating content that adds value for your followers and isn’t just marketing. No matter how many followers and likes a brand currently has, there’s potential to reach hundreds if not thousands more through commenting and sharing.

Advertising reach is not affected

The reach of paid ads on Facebook will not be affected by the algorithm changes. Keep in mind, though, that social media users don’t have a high opinion of advertising on these platforms. Have specific goals in mind for your ads, and line up the content with what’s being posted on your page. Think like your consumer – what value can you add for them through a social media advertisement? How can you create the ad to be less intrusive and more engaging?

Don’t put all your eggs in the Facebook basket

While Facebook is still an important tool despite these changes, there are numerous other platforms to take advantage of. Twitter is a fantastic option for direct conversations with your audience, and makes sharing content easy for followers. Snapchat can be a great way for brands to show some behind the scenes footage and try new ideas that might not work well on other platforms. If your company is primarily interested in driving sales through social media, Pinterest is a land of golden opportunity. Facebook will likely continue to be a part of most organizations’ communications plans, but the rapidly changing social media landscape offers new alternatives that can boost a brand’s reach.