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Sometimes referred to as “dark posts,” dark ads are sponsored content that show up only in the feeds of users you’ve chosen to target. They won’t appear on your brand’s timeline or followers’ feeds. 

So, why would marketers choose dark ads over organic or boosted posts? There are several advantages to following trackable behavior across the web to target audiences who aren’t following your brand.

1. You’ll get uber-targeted reach

Although traditional boosted posts can reach consumers based on demographics, such as age, location, gender, and income, dark ads go further. 

You can narrow your target audience to hyper-focused groups using specific keywords. Rather than talking to all moms in Idaho, for example, a publisher selling homeschool curricula could target only moms who list “homeschool” in their job title.

And because the ads are so specific, your chosen recipients will likely feel as though you’re speaking only to them.

2. Your main audience won’t be disturbed

If your brand regularly boosts posts, your timeline could be clogged with nearly identical content. In addition, your organic posts will likely get buried under the ads. 

On the contrary, dark posts are only viewed by the chosen recipients, allowing your timeline to remain sales-free and focused on only the content you want your general audience to see. 

The freedom from spam applies to your followers’ feeds as well. The last thing you want to do is annoy your loyal fans with variations of boosted ads. After all, “too many ads” is already a common complaint on social media. 

3. You’ll get insights through A/B testing

Sometimes called “split testing,” A/B testing allows you to test different versions of a dark ad to determine which gets the most clicks, engagement or conversions. Experiment with different images, calls to action, headlines and text and measure the results between two groups receiving one of the two ads to see which comes out on top. 

Testing out A/B posts can be helpful if you’re considering a rebrand or simply trying out some new messaging that you’re not sure will fly with your broader audience. Armed with the results from A/B testing, you can then optimize your organic and boosted posts, too.

Best practices 

Before you dip your toes into marketing with dark ads, it’s vital to understand which procedures will increase the likelihood of a good ROI without breaking any rules or regulations. While your approach may vary slightly between platforms, the general concepts can be applied across the web.

When not testing more controversial or “off-brand” topics in A/B testing, use organic content that matches the tone and voice of current dark ads. This will help provide a seamless experience for prospects that become followers or better — loyal brand ambassadors.

  1. On Instagram and Facebook, consider running your dark ads (called “unpublished posts”) via influencer marketing on an influencer’s account rather than your brand page. This option can be chosen — with permission, of course — through Facebook Ads Manager via the influencer’s accounts in the drop-down menu. 
  2. Review the metrics of dark post campaigns to determine not only which ads performed better but also if you need to re-target or resize your audience.
  3. Experiment with varying types of content when creating dark ads. On Instagram, for example, this might include photos, videos, Stories or carousel ads.
  4. Use free tools provided by social media platforms to help you create a targeted pool for dark posts. Facebook, for example, can help you create a Lookalike Audience — users who share common interests and traits with your current customer base.
  5. Try out different calls to action, content, headlines, and running dark posts through different identities on social media. 
  6. Social media platforms sometimes have different names for dark ads. For example, on LinkedIn, you’ll select “Create new sponsored content” when selecting your ad campaign. 
  7. Monitor your competitors’ dark ads to see what content they’re using, how many ads they’re running, and for how long. For Facebook and Instagram, visit the ads library and enter the brand or company’s name. On LinkedIn, go to the competitor’s company page, click on “posts” and then “ads.” 

Put these practices into use on your next dark ad campaign on social media and take great care in analyzing the results. Don’t be afraid to experiment with these highly targeted ads to discover what works and what doesn’t in response. IZEA can also help with these posts


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