Dark Social Media – The ROI Secret No One Wants to Divulge

The Future’s So Dark, You Gotta Wear Shades?

The original song lyrics of Timbuk3’s one-hit-wonder actually were, “The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.” So what’s up with “dark” reference, you ask? Well, I figured that since we’re going to talk about dark social media, it would be more appropriate to don some dark shades.

First let’s start with the concept of “dark social media”…

In this article which appeared in the Atlantic Monthly in the fall of 2012, Alexis C. Madrigal coined the phrase “dark social” to refer to social traffic that comes to your site from “sources invisible to most analytics programs”. He explains:

“It (dark traffic) shows up variously in programs as ‘direct’ or ‘typed/bookmarked’ traffic, which implies to many site owners that you actually have a bookmark or typed in www.theatlantic.com into your browser. But that’s not actually what’s happening a lot of the time. Most of the time, someone G-chatted someone a link, or it came in on a big email distribution list, or your dad sent it to you.”

Mr. Madrigal studied this topic further with the help of a real-time analytics firm called Chartbeat. What he found was extremely interesting, especially how it relates to Return on Investment, or ROI, (which we’ll get to soon). They found that dark social isn’t just some inconsequential figure, too small to worry about. They concluded that almost 69 percent of social referrals (see pie chart below) were dark, followed by Facebook at 20 percent and Twitter at 6 percent.

So I ask you… if nearly 70% of your social traffic comes from dark sources, how can you can measure the ROI of social?

My answer (and I’m not alone in this) is, “you can’t”…but this is not to say that social media has no value to you and your practice. In fact, I believe it’s much, much more valuable than you give it credit for.

Cue the “Future’s So Bright” chorus!

Courtney Seiter of Marketing Land said something in her post on the subject that sums it up perfectly…

“It’s a shot to get on someone’s radar and let that person know you’re cool, smart, funny, interesting and valuable to have around. And if you keep being all those things, eventually they’ll want to get to know you better. Or even tell their friends about you. That’s the value of social media – the potential to create a new relationship where there wasn’t one before. And then the ability to repeat that process as many times as you have friends and fans.”

Loyalty. Family, Affinity. Devotion. Allegiance. Bonds. These words are like gold for a practice (or any business for that matter).

You know the cost of acquring a new patient is much higher than a referral or return visit by an existing patient. So why obsess about the ROI of social media when it can be one of the key elements driving your retained and referred business? One presentation I saw asked, “how do you measure the ROI of your telephone or your copier?” It’s a core business tool, plain and simple.  And one of my favorites… the famously outspoken Gary Vaynerchuck (aka. Gary Vee) said in a 2011 keynote to inc500, “What’s the ROI of your mother?” (Watch the 3 minute video – you’ll love it.)

And Brian Solis, Prominent Social Media Thought Leader and Principal of Altimeter Group, said in his new book What’s the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences, “Perhaps this is just the new cost of doing business. In an era of connected consumerism, to earn customer attention, trust, and loyalty is a cost and an investment in relevance and relationships.”

Given the “that’s so 90’s” feel of ROI, I propose some new terms…

Mari Smith talks about ROE – Return on Engagement. An excellent alternative. But let’s delve even deeper. What about…

  • ROE – Return on Empowerment – The “connected consumer”, as Brian puts it, is in charge. So arm (empower) her with relevant, valuable content, and you will earn her undying devotion (and her friend base!). Put THAT in your calculator and see what happens!
  • ROR – Return on Relationships – Having patients feel an affinity to you and your practice creates a family-like bond, one which hopefully gets stronger with time as you continue to deliver wonderful experiences both in the office AND ONLINE!
  • PAF – Practice Affinity Factor. This metric would measure not only patient satisfaction with office visits and procedure results, but also referrals, return visits, coupled with online engagement.

So the next time someone asks you the ROI of social media, I encourage you to put on your dark sunglasses and just smile… because you “get it”.

P.S. Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below – I’d love to hear from you!


*P.P.S. I highly recommend Brian’s new book (as well as his previous ones).  As a creative person I’m especially loving the hardcover version (versus the kindle) because of the art & images by Hugh McLeod @GapingVoid.