How Marketers Should Adapt to The Rise of Social Selling and Dark Social
BY Kaitlin Loyal
February 26, 2024

There is yet another dramatic shift happening in B2B marketing. And two competing ideas are coming into focus for folks responsible for generating demand for their companies:

  • For many businesses, connections with prospects and, more generally, audiences, are happening outside their websites on platforms like LinkedIn.
  • “Dark social,” which is all the ways you might share content that’s untraceable through web analytics, is becoming increasingly popular.

These two ideas can throw a serious wrench into how you market to your audience and how you measure success. Here’s how to deal with it. 

The Importance of Connecting and Selling on LinkedIn

The way B2B buyers make buying decisions is changing. Google has become less and less effective at offering results that actually help prospective buyers in their quest for answers. SERPs are dominated by listicles touting the best services and software or pages full of keywords rather than helpful content demonstrating a business’s expertise. 

B2C consumers are turning to Reddit, TikTok and other social media for answers—a sign that B2B buyer search habits are also shifting to places outside typical search results. 

Our recent report, “The State of B2B Buyer Preferences in 2024: The Great Content Marketing Disconnect,” confirms that social media and professional networks have outpaced search for the top distribution areas.

But it’s not enough to post on LinkedIn haphazardly—consistency and timing is everything. 

Only about 5% of your audience is “in market” and on the verge of buying at any given time. B2B marketers have to cast a wide net to help potential buyers discover their product or service so that when they are ready to buy, they think of your solution. 

Your website content should be updated regularly, but LinkedIn is increasingly important to B2B marketing and sales. Social selling creates 45% more opportunities, and nearly 80% of people who engage in social selling outsell their peers. 

The Rise of Dark Social

The term “dark social” was coined in 2012, but if you work in B2B, you’re probably hearing it a lot more in 2024. It’s been around since we started DMing and emailing links, posting in Slack or Discord, sharing in closed social media groups, texting and generally sharing content in any way that’s not traceable by web analytics. (Though, if you want to get an idea of it, check out your “Direct” traffic in Google Analytics.)

There’s always been an incalculable side to distribution, brand awareness and attribution that gives B2B marketers agita. It’s difficult to prove that a brand awareness campaign works, for example, when you’ve received modest engagement. 

So, What Should We Do About It?

How should marketers market in the age where activity outside a website is equally as important (if not more important) and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to measure? Here are some tips.

Build Personal Brands For You and SMEs

Connection on LinkedIn and social selling takes place between individuals, not necessarily brands. Build up your own personal brand by updating your LinkedIn profile, as well as the profiles of your top SMEs. They need to look trustworthy and be accurate. 

Try Executive Activation

Your SMEs, thought leaders and top salespeople need to be active on LinkedIn and other networks where your audience hangs out. Executive Activation is the process of writing (and sometimes posting) content on behalf of your SMEs to help them stay active and participate in LinkedIn. 

Engage in Conversations

Actively participate in relevant LinkedIn groups and comment on posts to demonstrate your expertise. But don’t sell. Focus on building relationships over time. 

Share Valuable Content

Create a Venn diagram (in your head or on paper) of what your expertise is in and what your audience is interested in. Post content where those two topics overlap. 

Pick out blog posts or other content your team has developed and post all or part of them to get the conversation started. In my experience, it feels more natural to write part of a blog post into a more concise (and sometimes conversational) post just for LinkedIn. You can break up one blog into several posts that are a couple paragraphs long. Our report found that, even on social media, 51 percent of buyers preferred long-form content over short-form content (yes, you can use ChatGPT to help you do this). Finally, put full thoughts into your post without including a link to your website; LinkedIn penalizes users for linking to outside sites. 

Use Sales Navigator

If it aligns with your strategy, consider using LinkedIn Sales Navigator to identify and connect with potential leads more effectively. Sales Navigator provides advanced search and targeting options to find prospects based on specific criteria.

Use Analytics To Track What You Can

While dark social interactions may not be easily traceable, you can still use LinkedIn analytics to track impressions and engagement. Tracking website traffic with Google Analytics and email performance through your platform is also still important. 

Whether you’re just tracking performance within your marketing team or you report to other leaders at your company, it’s important to understand that it’s not as easy to figure out attribution or draw a straight line from an eBook to a closed deal anymore. This is a new reality, and we have to change the way we track and report on the work we do.

Let’s talk about growing your company.

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