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The Power of Going Dark on Social

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When audiences are constantly connected, one way to get noticed online is to go offline, by going dark on social media – in what many would dub a social media blackout. In this strategy we are reminded of Jeff Bezos’ famous quote, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” For marketers, considering if and how a brand would survive going offline can be a valuable test of its strength and resilience.

While it’s important for marketers to weigh the pros and cons, and determine the best timing for such a strategy, going dark can allow brands the opportunity to step back, change gear, and return with renewed purpose and energy. Outlined below are three considerations for brands exploring the blackout strategy, and accompanying examples of when brands have strategically and successfully gone dark in the past.

Marketer Considerations:

  1. Timing is everything. If the brand is undergoing major change, consider the right amount of time to spend offline.
  2. Do the research. Know the brand’s audience and give them what they want.
  3. React. Be ready to adapt to move forward, and listen to the brand’s audience to determine how and when to do so.

Timing is everything. If a brand is undergoing major change, marketers should consider the right amount of time to spend offline. In doing so, they can create suspense without the risk of losing interest. Marketers should make sure it is clear that going dark on social is part of a deliberate campaign, as DKNY did in September 2015, using a social blackout as part of its rebranding strategy.

Deleting all past posts from its social channels and leaving only a holding page image and the notice “Work in Progress: 9.16.15”, DKNY didn’t post on social for several weeks.

A significant risk to consider and prepare for is the possibility of diminishing a brand’s audience due to a lack of interest and activity during the blackout. DKNY lost a significant amount of Instagram followers during the period the brand was offline. On September 16, when the brand’s channels relaunched in conjunction with its New York Fashion Week show, DKNY mastered this situation by using Instagram’s direct messaging function to deliver exclusive, behind-the-scenes content to fans. This tactic helped the brand win back followers at a constant rate, adding over 1,500 new followers per day (data source: Social Bakers). DKNY navigated the risks associated with this strategy by recognizing what was of value to its followers and using exclusive content to reward brand loyalty and encourage advocacy following the blackout.

Do the research. Marketers should make an effort to get to know their audiences and give them what they want. This could mean improved access to products and a better overall user experience, as well as rewards for brand advocacy. In October 2014, Taco Bell went dark on social, allowing fans to recognize how much they valued the brand, and provided a new, enhanced consumer experience through the app.

With a social message stating that “the new way to Taco Bell isn’t on Twitter – it’s #onlyintheapp”- the brand earned a lot of attention. The blackout was widely reported, increasing Taco Bell’s app store ranking at the time from 1,379 to 24. A year later, the app remains high in download charts, and ranks in the Top 20 for food and drink app downloads (data source: AppAnnie). Taco Bell reaped the rewards of an in-depth understanding of the brand’s audience.

React. Marketers should be ready to adapt, and should listen to their audience so they know how and when to do so. Evaluate the brand’s purpose and strengths, in order to react quickly if the current strategy isn’t working. For example, when people reacted negatively to the announcement of new rating app “Peeple” in October 2015, it suspended its website and social channels to relaunch a “positive revolution”.

After negatively being called “Yelp for People”, the backlash on social media prompted Peeple’s creators to rethink their strategy, using a social blackout as a crisis management tool.

Interest in the app switched from damnation of its purpose to intrigue as to how it would evolve, a true example of the potential value in making a brand temporarily unavailable.

Knowledge of the online conversation about a brand gives marketers the power to influence what people are saying about it. Going dark on social media increases this power by enabling marketers to react to audience insights and return to the conversation with confidence and clarity. Doing the research, planning with precision and enabling a brand to react are valuable strategic tools for protecting and enhancing a brand identity in this ever-changing digital and always on world.

Cover photo via Mashable.