Dark posts sound scary, right?
They definitely do but don’t worry. The name is misleading. There’s no reason to be scared of this social media ad tactic. They’re actually a really great way to have your content reach your intended audience—and only that audience.
Keep reading to find out more about what dark posts are, how they work, and why you might want to consider using them in your content marketing strategy.
What Are Dark Posts?
Dark posts, or dark ads, are unpublished content that is promoted as an ad to a specific subset of your audience.
They are called dark posts because they aren’t actually published and won’t appear on the publisher’s timeline like organic posts or paid ads. They don’t show up in your feed or the feeds of your followers. Instead, they only appear in the newsfeeds of the users you want to target as sponsored posts.
They rose to popularity after their social media giant, Facebook, introduced them in July of 2012. Although there is some controversy around them, when dark ads are used as they are intended, they can help you target specific audiences with information that is most relevant to them.
Facebook may have introduced the concept, but most other social media platforms, including Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and Snapchat, have since adopted dark ads as well.
To identify a dark post, simply take a look at it. Even if they don’t have the traditional ad layout, they are required to be marked as sponsored content. You can also visit the Ad Library on Facebook, where any user can find all of the ads being run by a particular company.
Why You Should Use Dark Posts
Dark posts are especially helpful in the following situations.
Traditional paid ads are good at reaching your target audience as a whole, but sometimes you need to define a group even further. That’s where dark posts come in.
When you use a dark post, you can show different targeted audiences different posts. For example, say you’re a large brand like Target. You sell a lot of different items to a lot of different people.
With the help of dark ads, you can focus ads featuring college dorm necessities to college-aged students, while also running ads that show moms of school-aged children your sales on crayons and markers.
With this type of narrowed-down targeting, your posts are more likely to get through to the right people in your audience. This will lead to a higher ROI for your brand.
One of the first things you should do when optimizing your content is perform A/B testing. Also known as split testing, this type of experiment helps you determine which headline, photo, caption, or color palette performs better for your audience.
When you’re knuckle-deep in A/B testing, dark posts will become your best friend. You can use dark ads to test which version performs the best, even for the smallest subsections of your audience.
Dark ads help you to perfect content for more than one campaign.
When working on optimizing new campaigns, take a look back to see what worked in your previous ones. You might find that a certain color doesn’t perform well or that your audience really seems to resonate with long body copy.
Incorporate the information obtained from your dark ad campaigns into your paid and organic ones. This will probably boost your ROI and improve your results.
Eliminate the Look of Spam
There are many ways to design your social media strategy. But a genuine brand presence is popular regardless of who your audience is.
Keep your social media platforms looking clean and spam-free by using dark posts. This type of posting will ensure that your ads get in front of the right people without covering your feed in 100 versions of the same thing or burying your organic and more general content.
When Should You Use Dark Posts
Facebook Dark Ads
When Facebook introduced the concept of dark posts back in 2012, they were actually called dark posts. Since the concept has evolved, so has the name. They have now taken on the less-intimidating title of unpublished page posts.
Dark posts on Facebook can be directed to any audience of your choice. You can choose to push a post to someone who lives in a specific city, has clicked on your website, or went to a certain school. Whatever niche you’re looking for, Facebook will give you the targeting option to reach it.
Facebook dark ads can consist of a link, photo, video, status update, or carousel post. Whatever you design, it can be created within Facebook’s Power Editor or by using a third-party posting platform.
They can be found throughout the Facebook platform, including users’ news feeds, Instant Articles, in-stream videos, marketplace, the right column, and on your messenger home screen.
Instagram Dark Posts
It’s kind of funny to talk about dark posts on Instagram because, technically, every ad on this platform is a dark ad. Regardless of which type of ad you post, none of them will ever end up on your main Instagram grid.
Much like Facebook, Instagram allows dark posts to contain graphics, photos, videos, or carousel ads. You can also utilize Stories in your dark ads strategy on Instagram, which gives you an additional opportunity over Facebook’s platform. All posts will have the “Sponsored” tag in the top right corner and a call to action button across the bottom.
Instagram dark posts can be created within the platform itself, on Facebook Power Editor, or in Facebook Ads Manager.
Twitter Dark Posts
Twitter calls dark posts “promoted-only tweets.” Where regular tweets show up on your Twitter feed, your followers’ feeds, and all targeted followers’ feeds, promoted-only tweets only appear on your targeted followers’ feeds.
To create a promoted-only tweet, go into Twitter Ads. Here you can make your dark post in two places: compose mode or campaign creator.
When you’re working in compose mode, the only difference between posting a dark post and a normal tweet is a small box in the lower left corner that says “promoted-only”.
Any tweet crafted in Twitter’s campaign creator is automatically sent as a promoted-only tweet. No extra boxes to click!
Users can identify promoted-only tweets by a small label under the tweet that reads “Promoted by [brand].” This will tell them that what they are reading is actually an ad and not a spur-of-the-moment tweet by your brand.
LinkedIn Dark Posts
Similar to Twitter, dark posts also have a different name on LinkedIn. Here they are known as direct sponsored content.
Unlike sponsored content on LinkedIn, direct sponsored content does not require you to post a company update and it will never appear on your company page.
Using what LinkedIn calls audience matching, the platform gathers all of the data they have collected on users’ jobs, industry, titles, field of study, age, and more, to help you better narrow down the targeted audience for your direct sponsored content.
Dark posts, or direct sponsored content, can only be created by an admin using a company page. You can create a totally new ad or optimize a current campaign. LinkedIn allows the use of images and links in their dark posts.
The Future of Dark Ads
The anonymity of dark posts, as well as user privacy concerns and the use of artificial intelligence to break down audiences, is always a topic of conversation. Over time, you’ve probably heard that the end is near for them.
This is a valid concern, often stemming from the social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, stating that they will be cracking down on the anonymity of dark ads.
Misuse of dark ads, particularly in political ads, has pushed for more social media platforms to be more transparent with their users.
Heeding the call, Twitter and Facebook have both opened transparency centers. These centers make it so that users can see exactly what companies are running which ads at any point in time. They pull back the curtain on any previous, current, or scheduled social media ads, revealing what the ads look like, how many were run, and how much money was spent on them.
Because dark ads can make it easier to hide the producer of the ad, these transparency centers have become very important to the longevity and future of dark posts.
Top Dark Posts FAQs
1. What is a dark post?
A dark post is a targeted ad on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, or Twitter.
2. Are dark ads always called dark posts?
No. Dark posts are called unpublished page posts on Facebook, promoted-only tweets on Twitter, and direct sponsored content on LinkedIn.
3. Do dark posts have a high ROI?
The ROI of a social media campaign always depends on the actual design, message, and logistics of each campaign. However, since dark posts are so closely targeted, they do tend to have a high ROI.
4. Are dark posts completely hidden from those, not in the original intended audience?
No. While dark posts won’t show up on your brand’s feed or the feed of users that you haven’t specifically targeted, any user can find all of your ads in a social media platform’s transparency center. These centers often list every ad an organization has ever run, including how much money was spent on targeting each ad.
5. Should my company use dark ads in our social media strategy?
There is no one-size-fits-all social media strategy. The answer to this question is going to be slightly different for every company. However, if you are producing either organic or paid social media content, you should, at least, familiarize yourself with the strategy behind dark ads.