7 minutes

Dark Social Media – Peeling back the layers with Lurker Analytics

The majority of social media users don't engage with the content they read. We all know this, but it seems as of late, more and more social media marketers are trying to reach their lurker audience and bring them into the conversation.

The term 'Dark Social' is common these days (or a variant called Gray Social), referring to those who share information, but not in the way that we want our readers to. Instead of clicking on the 'share buttons' on the post, readers will copy and paste the URL in an email or social message directly to their friend or co-worker. This leaves marketers with no way to track this engagement, and thus, are being left in the dark.

The lack of ability to track these engagements leaves us to wonder how effective our content truly is. It also poses a challenge for digital marketers when their boss or client requires performance analytics.

So, how do we get lurkers to come out of the shadows and participate?

Recently, I read a post on Mark Schaefer's blog called "Can the Onion Theory bring social media lurkers into the light?" by Brooke Ballard. In the post, Brooke discusses the 'Onion Theory' and how it may apply to engaging 'lurkers' or people who observe but never (or rarely) participate in the conversation. From Brooke's post on the Onion Theory:

The psychology behind it says that by disclosing information about yourself to your community, you will activate reciprocity with some of your members, thus creating a relationship and trust.

I strongly recommend reading this if you haven't already. The post goes on to talk about the different levels of conversation brands have (or the different layers of the onion). 'Superficial' being the most common level of conversation, moving to 'Intimate', 'Personal,' and finally, 'Core'. It's rare to find brands communicating at the Personal or Core level. Brooke suggests that revealing more and communicating on a more personal level will help encourage the lurkers to participate in your conversation.

I agree with Brooke – being more open with your audience will (or should) encourage them and make them feel invited to participate, thus bringing some of the lurkers out of dark.

Emily Post's book on 'Etiquette,' (1922) discusses the proper way to have a conversation, how to encourage one, and what to avoid. She states that to have a meaningful conversation, you must "Talk about things which you think will be agreeable to your hearer." I propose that sharing more of yourself is just a piece of the puzzle, knowing more about your lurkers and gearing your conversation towards them is the key to solving it.

How do you appeal to your lurker audience if you don't know who they are?

This is where audience insights based on the interest graph come in, what we like to call Lurker Analytics or #LurkerLytics as our CEO, Tim Burke, put it while attending the 2015 Brand Innovators Summit in New York. After reading more information about the Onion Theory and learning more about how to have a 'proper conversation,' I decided that there is another side to this. If I may, let me introduce to you to The Lurker Onion:

The Lurker Onion

The Lurker Onion looks at the different layers of audience insights you can achieve through analyzing the interest graph. Peeling back the layers, you are learning about what makes a lurker tick – what they are interested in, what truly resonates with them. This is the other half, once you know more about your lurker audience, only then can you have a meaningful conversation – perhaps one-sided at first, but by using their language you will help draw them out of the shadows.

How do you discover the affinities of a Lurker?

In Brooke's post, she states that she and Mark Schaefer have been on an endless quest:

Mark Schaefer and I have been on a seemingly endless quest to understand dark social media, gray social media, and the people who may love your company but stay in the shadows.

We have the answer, Brooke!

Let's take a look at Mark Schaefer's audience to see what we can learn about his lurkers and what may be 'agreeable' content for them. The following information comes from the Affinio platform after doing an analysis of @markwschaefer's followers. Affinio looks at all of the members of an audience, analyzes the network connections among them, then groups the members into like-minded communities or clusters. 

@markwschaefer's Audience Visualization

Mark's audience has a smaller 'lurker percentage' than the norm (around 90%) as his audience is comprised of mainly people who work or are associated with the social media world.

@MarkWSchaefer Audience Engagement
@MarkWSchaefer Audience Engagement

Let's take a closer look at the 'Innovation' cluster

The members of this cluster have been grouped together based on their shared interests. The following is the content that lays on top. So even if someone never speaks, these are the people most like them who do come into the light. Bare with me here, I have a lot of data to show you. The following will look at how this cluster self-describes, their location, the content they share, and who/what influences them.

Starting with how a cluster self-describes gives us our first indication of who the members are. Here are the top bio keywords:

Innovation/Data/Tech Tribe Bio Keywords

Next, location gives us a little more information, we can see that the members of this cluster are mainly located in the United States and the UK with some visibility in India and Australia:

location of innovation/tech/data tribe

What about content? Here are the top used hashtags (left) and mentions (right) from this cluster:

Hashtage and mentions from Innovation/Data/Tech Tribe

Here are the top 10 links shared within this cluster over the past 30 days:

Note: This post was originally shared on March 2, 2015.

  1. Exclusive: Google is developing its own Uber competitor
  2. The shape of things to come
  3. Twitter reaches deal to show tweets in Google search results
  4. Commun.it
  5. Forbes Quotes fo the Day
  6. Inc.com
  7. The world's 50 most innovative companies
  8. FT.com UK
  9. nytimes.com
  10. internet.org by Facebook

We know that Mark Schaefer is an influencer of this cluster, but who else is? Here is a graphic of the top 200 influencers of this cluster - the people/businesses/celebrities in which they have top affinities to. 

Influencers of Innovation/Tech/Data tribe

In this list, we see a fair amount of common influencers or at least expected ones for Mark's audience. So what makes this cluster different? Here are the top ten unique influencers to this cluster (influencers that do not appear in Mark's other clusters):

  1. Dave McClure
  2. Mark Suster
  3. Reid Hoffman
  4. Fred Wilson
  5. Gigaom
  6. Eric Ries
  7. 500 Startups
  8. Kara Swisher
  9. Steve Case
  10. Michael Arrington

Just looking at this brief analysis, we are starting to understand the members of this cluster a lot better. This data allows us to engage in conversation (or produce content) that is agreeable to our 'hearers' or Lurkers. By creating content that mirrors what this cluster is already interested in and what truly resonates with them, I argue that you increase the chances of bringing the lurkers into the light.

What are your thoughts on The Lurker Onion? Don't be a lurker and let me know in the comments below!

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