Social Trend Watching: June Edition

Michael Oelschig Submitted by on the 7th of June 2016

Welcome to June’s edition of social media trends to watch out for. We have some in-depth ones this month, so we’re only going to unpack two as opposed to our normal three.

  1. Dark Social

Not be confused with its more nefarious namesake, the dark net, dark social refers to social sharing of content that occurs outside of what can be measured by traditional web analytics programs. This mostly comes about through links shared through email or messaging apps as opposed to social media platforms where referrals links can be measured. The term originated from an article for The Atlantic written by Alexis Madrigal who had started questioning the existing analytics of web traffic and the fact that they don’t account for content shared over instant messaging.

Why is this important? Well, if a brand’s primary objective is to direct traffic to its owned platforms, as it should be, being able to measure that traffic accurately is fundamental to understanding the relative success of your content efforts. With some reports suggesting that up to 70 percent of traffic to some websites can be attributed to dark social (especially on mobile), it helps to know how to leverage this to your advantage.

How, or rather, can we measure dark social? Historically, no. Traditional analytics software considered all dark social sources as “direct traffic” by assuming the reader typed the unique URL into the address bar and clicked return. In practice, though, this rarely happens. The good news is that there are new tools that allow us to better dissect, and therefore leverage, dark social sources.

If your website or blog is receiving a high percentage of so-called direct traffic, you can safely assume that this is predominantly from dark social sources; so being able to optimise this means measuring it properly.

For some tools on how to do this, I’ll let social media examiner take over here.

  1. Chatbots

The machines are taking over! Well, not really, but it’s a compelling opening. At a conference on 12 April this year, Mark Zuckerberg revealed the first wave of Bots for Messenger. Basically, bots are automated, interactive AI programs that respond to natural language allowing users to shop, order food, read the news, book travel or get personalised weather forecasts – all without leaving the app. A short while later, Kik revealed their own version, with Slack and Telegram experimenting with their own. Microsoft has also joined the party, introducing developer tools for Skype and other services.

While still in relative infancy, this much-hyped technology is set to totally transform how many businesses interact with their customers. One of the biggest social customer service metrics businesses focus on is “average response time” – i.e. the speed at which community managers take to respond to all customer questions. Now imagine this was instantaneous! Welcome to the bot. Through artificial intelligence, Facebook Messenger and other IM apps will be able to automate much of a business’s customer service. Not only will this help the customer, but also the cost benefits to a business are immense.

Is this the end of the community manager? No, of course not. But what is exciting is the idea that the community manager role can become a lot more directed towards relationship building, proactive opportunity spotting and customer insight generation as opposed to being simply online call centre agents. This is something we at Cerebra have been pushing for for years, and now we have the technology to make it pervasive.

Of course, we will still have to see how smart the AI really is, and how it will cope with complicated linguistic and cultural nuances, but that is something that will improve over time. What might never change, though, is the pervasiveness of angry people on the internet. While the bots can help with simple tasks, real community managers will need to assist the frothing customer who found a bug in their burger. If that customer sees quick responses to basic questions, will they now expect the same lightning-speed responses to their complaints? Could it make them even angrier? Either way, we’ll definitely be seeing some hilarious AI faux pas over the next year or so!

One of the biggest questions on marketer’s minds currently is how businesses can begin to leverage the meteoric rise of IM platforms and take advantage of their customers’ usage of them. Just maybe that question has now been answered.


Mike O