Working with large brands at Echo is thrilling. They have the content, products and reach that matter in everyday people’s lives. This means that even small improvements in their Realtime, Social strategy results in big impacts on large groups of people. One of the prevailing misconceptions we find when we first get started with a new customer, however, is that Facebook is Social. Facebook comments, Facebook Likes, Facebook Fan Pages are often seen as the beginning and the end of the social ‘strategy’.
For as long as I can remember, my career has been about helping others to remember that Facebook (or Myspace or AOL etc) can only ever be one part of the larger web and Internet landscape. The percentage fluctuates of course but it is never 100%.
A new article in The Atlantic this week, however, reminds us that not only is Facebook only a fraction of the overall web (in terms of traffic referrers and participation) but also that its not even the biggest fraction. It also reminds us that while modern social networking has introduced many powerful novelties, being social on the internet is far from a new phenomenon. In fact, it has been a pervasive part of internet interactions since the beginning - think Email and Instant Messaging for example. These ‘old’ tools continue to have a huge (in fact the largest) impact on your referrer traffic and engagement.
This engagement, however, is under measured and not well understood. The Atlantic postulates that it appears in web analytics as unknown referrers to non home page or section front pages - assuming that direct traffic to deep links can only come from people sharing links to one another using tools that don’t leave referrer signatures. So the Atlantic has taken to calling this class of traffic ‘Dark Social’.
Below is a chart of their referral traffic as measured by ChartBeat. Most notably they have shown and labeled the appropriate traffic as 'Dark Social' on the chart.
This chart clearly shows that, for The Atlantic, Dark Social, and non Facebook ‘Standard Social’ together, accounts for almost 80% of all referral traffic.
In this light it is obvious that what’s needed is a ‘Facebook+’ strategy. Or better put, a strategy that puts your website at the center, with Mobile + Desktops + Facebook + Twitter + Reddit + Digg + StumbleUpon + Dark Social + many others as link distribution pipes.
This means that for maximum coverage and distribution, every login, sharing, commenting, following, notification, trending surface can’t just be a Facebook widget. You need white label Social Software Infrastructure that connects your audience to your site using the tools, technologies and distribution opportunities of the entire web.
The web has always been, and will always continue to be the platform. Social or otherwise.