A dark post is a paid social media communication that is not published to the creator’s page or timeline but sent to the newsfeeds of targeted groups of followers or connections.
Marketers often use dark posts in A/B testing to explore the response to variations on a message with limited target audiences. Advertisers can also use the approach to customize marketing messages to appeal to different customer demographics or to target only followers who would be likely to be interested rather than wasting resources on unproductive broad-scale messages.
Dark posts can take a number of forms, including status updates, images, videos, offers and links to websites or content. Platforms that support dark posts include Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Pinterest. On some other channels, such as Snapchat and Instagram, all promoted posts are dark.
Dark posts have become controversial for a number of reasons, including the way people’s data has been gathered and used and the form’s inherent lack of transparency. Although the technology was designed for marketing applications, anyone can create dark posts and tailor them to serve their particular purposes.
Posters can select keywords that target particular customer demographics, such as “golf” or “senior,” for example. Recently, however, it was discovered that inflammatory and racist keyword phrases had been used to target followers who would be likely to welcome the associated messages.
Furthermore, because such messages are not published to the poster’s own news feed or page, followers who would be likely to object to them might be unaware that they existed. Through dark posts, individuals and organizations can send out different – even contradictory – messages to different groups of followers and may avoid accountability because the posts are not widely published.
See also: weaponized information