Your marketing success may hinge on Gray Social Media

  • Kristine Allcroft

    I don’t know why, but the idea of “Gray Social” kinda gives me the creeps. I guess it’s mostly because I hadn’t thought about it before, but it makes so much sense. But it’s kind of like being “stalked” on the internet . . .

    I spend so much time writing my blog posts assuming that no one really reads them. After all, it’s a blog about property damage restoration – and no one wants to think about all the bad things that can happen to buildings. So I blog, hoping it will keep the business at the top of local search.

    But, there are folks who pick it up and broadcast it as I can tell from the Analytics page. And then there are others who just steal the content and use it on their own web page as I’ve recently found out. That’s the darker side of gray social to be sure.

    The internet is a great way to “hide” if you don’t want to spend the time creating a relationship with actual people. . . or you don’t want to take the time to create your own authentic posts.

  • Ben Murray

    Interesting stuff, I agree it’s worth investigating your unknown channels even if it’s just a few readers. Like you said, you may have a whole (but small) passionate tribe of viewers you had no idea that were connecting with you.

  • Bill Reighard

    I confess, you have smoked me out. However, I will continue to read your great blog everyday!

  • Mark W Schaefer

    My definition of gray social media is the people who love you but their message gets losr. I don’t see that as creepy whatsoever. It’s an opportunity to find them and reward them. Sorry if I was unclear.

  • Mark W Schaefer

    I think we all do. Thanks Ben.

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Oh, you are definitely in the light Bill! Thanks for commenting.

  • Anders Orsander

    I often say that the world is not black and white, so I definitely like the idea of grey social media… although it makes it all more complicated than just black and white.

    How about thinking in terms of quantity audience and quality audience? That might help to address the quality audience (whether it’s black, white or grey). It might take a bit more good old human analysis rather than analytics tools, but it might be worth the effort.

  • Mark W. Schaefer

    Thanks for your insight Anders.

  • Mandy Edwards

    Sometimes a group of small voices can be louder than 1 large one. This is definitely something to think about.

  • Richard Meyer

    Of all the garbage spread by “social media experts” to suggest that any brand’s success is contingent upon social media is bull. What brands have to do is execute on all consumer touch points flawlessly. Over the last year I have led a lot of consumer research into social media and what has become clear is that consumers don’t have time to engage brands on social media which would account for the declining reach on Facebook.

  • Mark W. Schaefer

    I’m not sure how to take your comment but I’m not suggesting that success derives from social media alone. However, any brand would be foolish to ignore it and the point of my article is that there are many powerful small communications signalling brand affection that we may be ignoring.

    Your comment on engagement and its affect on organic reach is incorrect, at least accroding to Facebook. There is no connection between engagement and organic reach. Organic reach is decling, according to Facebook, because there is too much brand content flooding the news streams. They have no choice but to edit it back dramatically, resulting in the loss of reach for many companies.

    BTW, not all brands are losing reach. In the past year, many “conversational” brands like sports teams, TV shows, etc have had dramatic increases in organic reach. I hope this information helps.

  • Mark W. Schaefer

    Thanks Mandy.

  • Chris Brogan

    You know, the original reason I deleted my comments section was spam. The second reason was this previous wizard (if I’m taking him the way he seems to have intended it). But the third is for that gray. With no comments, I no longer have that specific signal to worry over. I just look for the fringe signals, those that don’t immediately present themselves without a lot of poking around.

    Watching you. Because hey, this is a great thought, and worth more than a random drive-by deriding. :)

  • Tamara MacDuff

    This is an interesting theory. I see myself in this grey to dark area. In classes I teach on social & digital marketing I mention you, your theories, and your books. You didn’t know until now when I told you. I don’t always share content though I attempt to drive people to it through mentions in my classes on my resource slides or through email. I guess I do it because with some content I know my entire audience may not understand it or appreciate it, yet I know specifically who it should be shared with. Someday I’ll get brave to connect with others; after all the friendship I built with Brooke Ballard started with a “like” on her page. Thank you for getting me to think a little deeper. :)

  • Louise Griffiths

    This is pretty timely for me as I am currently exploring in more depth the use of data – specifically things like google analytics and email marketing activity etc. I’m looking at it from the angle of the small business – say your average coach or consultant without fancy software – how do they best track that data.

    I think what you refer to as grey social media will become more common as social media and other digital channels continue to mature from a ‘business use’ perspective. I have seen the move towards private FB groups and sharing of information through email and personal FB accounts etc. The data is still there it’s just becoming obscured.

    I think that the challenge is not lack of data but that there is so much data and we need to learn to analyse what’s important or relevant. It could be too easy to spend too much time analysing this grey social media but is the return worth it – I guess that’s the question – and the answer is probably “it depends”. I think your right though – the opportunity is definitely there for someone to explore more in depth how identifying those people who love the brand but are not currently on your radar could have a positive effect on business either through increase purchase from them or increased advocacy.

  • Mark W. Schaefer

    Thank you sir. I am wizard proof : )

    It sounds as though you really dwell in the fringe, in the gray. I can see that. Nobody notices better than you. Thanks so much for your comment.

  • Mark W. Schaefer

    Whoa. I had no idea. Welcome to the Alpha Audience Tamara! And thanks for the truly wonderful support.

  • Mark W. Schaefer

    Great to hear from you Louise! Hope you are enjoying your summer.

    Here are two resources that can help you. I highly recommend Christopher Penn’s new book “Blue Belt Marketing.” It walks you through some powerful ways to apply analytics to your marketing without breaking the bank.

    Second, if you don’t know Brooke Ballard, connect with her. She is tackling many of the same problems and is really smart and about using software resourcefully.

    Thanks for the great comment!

  • Pingback: Marketing Day: Searching For Marketing Technology, Modern Face Of Display Ads & Super Bowl Ads On YouTube()

  • Louise Griffiths

    Thanks and I am enjoying my summer :-) It appears the US may not be having such an enjoyable winter 😉

    I already have blue belt marketing after your post the other day so I need to get cracking on reading it and I’m off to find Brooke! Thank you!

    I’ll be curious to see how this topic develops and whether identifying those people in the ‘grey’ proves a profitable strategy.


  • Hitesh Parekh

    This is an excellent post and it has opened me a new perspective on social media avenues. You are right about opportunities we are missing still and it is worth to delve on analytics such as Google analytics or a social platform analytics to see how people react and disperse our content.

  • Mark W Schaefer

    I think it needs further exploration. I have reached out to a few analytics companies to see what they think about this and they don’t have answers yet.

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Thank you Hitesh. Will be interesting to see what you find out.

  • Pingback: Marketing Day: Searching For Marketing Technology, Modern Face Of Display Ads & Super Bowl Ads On YouTube | Advertised Free()

  • Pingback: Your marketing success may hinge on Gray Social...()

  • Pingback: Marketing Day: Searching For Marketing Technology, Modern Face Of Display Ads & Super Bowl Ads On YouTube |

  • Avtar Ram Singh

    Such an honor to have sparked a thought and got the wheels turning in Mark’s head and to be mentioned on this prestigious platform. :)

    There has to be a social software company out there that’s hopefully doing some research on the “significance of small social signals”. I think that’s something that should probably come to the fore in 2015. If we can start quantifying and making sense of what dispersed social and digital signals mean for brands and individuals – there’s a massive opportunity to tap into a very large untapped “gray” space that Mark mentioned.

    If there’s anyone out there developing such a tool or a product – would love to hear of / from them.

    Little signals like the ones mentioned – LinkedIn endorsements, even favorites on Twitter, blog comments, replies to tweets, referring pages from which people add you as a connection on LinkedIn or follow you on Twitter, would be absolutely fascinating to look at. How valuable would it be if you knew that 20 people followed you on Twitter because Person X retweeted your tweet to his audience and they loved it? What if over the course of 20 days, 4 of his retweets got you 80 followers, and out of those 80 people, 5 of them asked for your services?

    Don’t those 4 retweets translate into 5 new business opportunities? Can gray social media and tracking the significance of small social signals finally attribute an actual ROI figure in dollar value to a retweet?


  • Avtar Ram Singh

    Absolutely, and I also do feel that a lot of progress in analyzing the significance of these social signals will rely on the amount of access to their APIs social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn will allow.

  • Avtar Ram Singh

    This blog post talking about gray social media brought to the fore someone within that specific area and gave you the exact kind of insight you were looking for! How cool is that. :)

  • Avtar Ram Singh

    While your comment is slightly off-topic, I’d like to address it because I feel it’s spreading misinformation. Marketing has always been associated with a budget. If your reach is declining, it’s time you attached a budget to reach your audience.

    Not sure about the people you’ve been in conversation with @richmeyer:disqus, but last year my team and I spent about $500 advertising an event for a client and those ads directly drove ticket sales worth $7,000. That’s 14x ROI, something you’d be hard pressed to find (and track) on platforms other than digital.

  • Mark W. Schaefer

    Well said and thanks for your contributions Avtar!

  • Pingback: Gray social media and social monitoring tools - Christopher S. Penn Blog()

  • Pingback: Your marketing success may hinge on Gray Social...()

  • Brooke Ballard

    Hi Lousie! Happy to e-meet you. And Mark, thank you so much for the kind words.

    Louise, though I haven’t cracked any codes, I’m doing a lot of poking around (specifically with tools and SAAS) to try and figure out how we can measure the “gray” areas in our social sphere. Right now I’m having to piecemeal things together. My hope is that the technology gap we’re facing as marketers starts to close — especially this loop. Let’s connect and put our heads together! I’m on Twitter the most: @madsmscientist

  • Brooke Ballard

    Sure did, Tamara! And now here you are on Mark’s blog. It’s a small social sphere. 😉

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Thanks Sara. You will definitely like my new book.

  • Sara Berry

    look forward to it Mark

  • Pingback: The Impact of Dark Social in Travel Marketing | Frederic Gonzalo()

  • Pingback: 25 Inbound Marketing Resources From Around the Web: February 13, 2015 – UpCity()

  • Pingback: The Week in Social Analytics #141 - TweetReach Blog at TweetReach Blog()

  • Pingback: The Impact of Dark Social in Travel Marketing | ProminentSocial()

  • Pingback: The Impact of Dark Social in Travel Marketing | News Feed()

  • David Geberer

    Great article Mark! I really enjoyed this discussion – a lot of information.

    To me this “grey social media” sounds a bit like “long-tailed keywords”. Frequently those are the quality leads. In social media it can be different as Sara Berry mentioned that there can be many consumers out there who are just not interested in giving out their personal info or becoming the object of potential solicitation.
    Nevertheless, these obscure findings can reap great benefits. Should we budget our time and money on how we find these grey internet users I’d answer with a resounding yes!
    The analytics tools already out there probably can be updated to provide this additional information. I’m looking forward for that. At the moment though we’ll have to do our own investigation and exploration to find those “breadcrumbs” people leave behind.

    I’m a beginner still in all of this but I find it fascinating and exciting every day. I’d love to connect professionally with each and every one of you! Your insights and personalities sound fun!

  • Pingback: 9 Essential Skills of a Law Firm Social Media Manager()

  • Pingback: February 2015's Best SEO, Social Media, and Content Marketing | @northcuttHQ()

  • Keith A Quesenberry

    Sorry I am late the the discussion. Just saw this reposted on Twitter for the launch of the book.

    Nice thoughts Matk. I think this is a good wake up call for us that despite increasing Interenet and Social Media penetration and use that does not mean we are able to teach and measure all activity. There is a lot happening off line or below our measurement radar that we are missing!


  • Mark W. Schaefer

    Thanks. Please do connect with us! And I like the long tail lead analogy.

  • Mark W. Schaefer

    Thanks so much for adding your wisdom to the discussion Keith!

  • Pingback: Inbound marketing - slow and steady wins the race! - Marketing Sense()

  • Pingback: Inbound Sales Tips for Marketers – [ Blab Video Interview ] | Affiliate Marketing()