Dark Social: B2B Influencer Marketing's Secret Weapon

Tim Williams08/09/2019

B2B marketers need to understand the power of dark social, says Tim Williams, CEO at Onalytica. Here, Tim outlines a strategy for engaging the C-suite by harnessing this powerful medium alongside influencer marketing.

Most B2B brands overlook the key role ‘dark’ social media plays in getting time‐poor executives to engage with marketing and influencer content.

What is dark social? Dark social is defined as any interaction with social media content that social media platforms can’t see or track – for example, when someone shares a link to a post via email, by text, via Slack or even by word of mouth.

This isn’t just something that we believe to be happening. It is happening and continuing to grow. In fact, according to a 2018 study carried out by Smart Insights and Get Social, dark social is officially the largest social traffic source with 1.4 million monthly referrals, trumping Facebook’s 1.25 million referrals and stealing their reign.

So, despite the challenges marketers face when it comes to measuring and tracking dark social’s impact, this clandestine web traffic can still play a key role in helping brands reach and influence their target audiences.

How dark social influences the C‐suite

So what does this mean for B2B marketers? One of the key challenges in B2B is getting content in front of the right audience, which is often members of the C‐suite. Social media isn’t usually seen as the place where these individuals would be present, but that’s a common misconception.

While C‐suite executives generally aren’t scrolling through social media daily, this doesn’t mean that they’re not being influenced by the content shared through this medium – it’s just less direct.

The C‐suite rely on the managers and directors who report into them to share insights, and therefore are heavily influenced by what their colleagues have to say and the kind of content they share with them. So, while the middle managers aren’t the decision makers, they’re the ‘recommenders’.

According to a survey of 5,000 B2B buyers carried out by CEB, the thing decision makers care about most is whether a supplier has secured ‘widespread support’ across their organisation. So, targeting these individuals who are close to the C‐suite can influence their decision making.

So, it is these mid‐level managers and directors that we must pay attention to because, unlike their executive colleagues, they are active on social media and digesting influencer content.

How can we influence these internal stakeholders and let them do the rest to influence the C‐suite?

Finding indirect routes to decision‐makers

There is a simple model that you can use to find these indirect routes to decision makers. It’s an adaptation of the 1 – 9‐90 model first referenced by Charles Arthur saying that “if you get a group of 100 people online, one will create content, 10 will ‘interact’ with it and the other 89 will just view it.”

But in the B2B world, we’re trying to target the people who sign off on business decisions; the C‐Suite. So, we need to consider who influences them. With this, we introduce the 10 – 80‐10 model.

If a brand engages with and creates content with the top 1% of influencers in their industry, they will reach their wider influencer networks too – the 9%. The reason for this is that we typically see influencers working in small connected groups, or ‘hives’ of knowledge. When a key industry influencer produces content, the wider influencer network generally shares it.

The 80% is composed of the mass market, including middle managers, who are following influencers on social media and are exposed to this influencer content.

It is really important to note here that the kinds of influencers we’re referring to in B2B are different to those in B2C. While trust in “mainstream” influencers is coming under increasing scrutiny, word of mouth marketing remains paramount in the B2B buyer journey.

According to research, 91% of B2B transactions are influenced by word of mouth, 85% of customers seek out trusted expert content and 84% of the C‐Suite pay attention to social media content when making a purchase decision.

How to reverse engineer ‘dark social’

The first step is to define the different audience segments you want to reach.

Who are the key decision‐makers that would purchase the products or services you offer? Who within their organisation would influence them (i.e. who reports into them)?

For example, if you’re looking to influence the decision‐making process of a CMO, then you need to understand and profile the mid‐level marketing managers within each team that reports into them.

Consider the following:

  • Which social media platforms do they use?
  • What are the industry hot topics they will engage with?
  • What are their pain points?
  • What business outcomes does their CMO really care about?

From here you can identify the most relevant voices in the market who speak about the topics your audience cares about and are present on the platforms your audience uses.

Remember, when identifying the best influencers to work with, the focus should be on the relevance of their audience to your business rather than the size of their following.

Where do you start in sourcing relevant influencers?

The best place to start is by going on the social media platforms where your audience is present and seeking out the influencers who are sharing content on the topics you’ve identified as important.

Search for keywords that matter to your business and see what content comes up – normally, the most popular content will appear first. From there, you can see who is posting about these topics and getting the most engagement.

Take a look at the profiles of these individuals – influencers will include their profession and the topics they care about within their bio to make their profile more appealing to brands. From a quick scan through their content, you can also get a good feel for their persona.

Here are some signs to look out for:

  • Content Creator — sharing links to high quality articles that are mostly written by them (great to partner with on content)
  • Social Amplifier — sharing links to articles that aren’t written by them, but by publications, brands and other influencers (great to amplify your branded content)
  • Industry Experts – likely to work in the industry and be writing their own high value content (great to partner with on “future of industry” content)
  • Conference Speakers – promoting their speaking slots and sharing content during events using the event hashtag (great to invite to attend or speak at your events to drive and sustain online engagement)
  • Online Connectors – tagging and getting tagged by other influencers (great to help you reach as much of the influencer community as possible)
  • Media influencers - mostly writing content for third‐party sites (great to add credibility to your content)

Now while it is possible to source influencers in this way, it is a laborious manual process that won’t reap the best results. This is where tech comes in.

There are many tools in the market that will do all the hard work for you to find the perfect influencers for your program. There are also relationship management tools that enable you to build more relationships, quicker.

So, if you’re looking to accelerate your influencer programs to get results as soon as possible, tech is the way to go!

Key takeaways

  • While C‐suite executives are not always on social media, they’re influenced by mid‐level managers that are on social media. We call this dark social: content being shared by mediums that we cannot track, such as email, by text, via Slack or even by word of mouth
  • Supplementing your branded content strategy by collaborating with influencers not only makes it easier for mid‐level managers to find your content, but they’re also far more likely to trust the content and take action based upon it.
  • Take the time to understand who influences your decision makers internally. Identify the social media channels they’re on, what their motivations are and what kind of content they are sharing, so that you can collaborate with the most appropriate influencers.