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What’s the future of dark social media?

Since its arrival in 2009, WhatsApp has grown rapidly to become the private messaging platform for our daily conservations.

The introduction in March of end-to-end encryption by WhatsApp meant that private conversations would continue to be out of reach of web analysts, with web traffic unable to be tracked through the platform.

This announcement is great news if we want to keep private our feelings about a particular product, but bad news for those brands looking to exploit areas of Dark Social that have previously been off-limits.

The role of Dark Social, which is a term first coined by Alexis C. Madrigal, a senior editor at The Atlantic, to refer to the social sharing of content that occurs outside of what can be measured by web analytics programs, could be about to change, though.

In January, WhatsApp announced that it would allow certain brands, such as airlines and banks to communicate with customers on the platform, namely for the delivery of useful customer communications. In addition, Facebook has also recently announced that it will allow brands to message customers across Messenger via branded ‘chatbots’, which will communicate with customers directly – a sort of robotic customer service function.

This opening up of previously private spaces to brands to communicate directly with its customers could have a major future impact on social media strategies and how brands engage with its customers; particularly from a customer service perspective which can account for a sizable chunk of a social media team’s daily remit.

Companies like Facebook and Google (which has also announced the launch of its own chatbots) are hoping that the innovation will allow users to chat with Internet services in much the same way as they chat with a sales rep or customer service teams. ‘Bots’ will instantly answer questions, respond to requests, and even anticipate customer needs.

One of the key challenges from a marketing perspective is for brands to earn the right and trust of its customers to be in these spaces, spaces that they haven’t previously existed in and so it will likely take some time for customers to get used to. Going in ‘all guns blazing’ is perhaps not the best way to approach Dark Social strategies and could instead do more harm than good.

If approached in the right way, though, it may not be too long before sight of our favourite brands in our WhatsApp chat history is expected.