By 2017, social network ad spending will reach $35.98 billion, representing 16% of all global digital ad spend. Advertisers in North America especially place a premium on social media, ponying up $12 billion on social network advertising, up from a mere $4.9 billion in 2013.

Unlike traditional channels like TV, the pace of innovation in social has been breakneck. A wide range of advertising models and ad formats have emerged for brands in the past two years, as covered in our upcoming Intelligence Report on Digital Video.

Facebook – which dominates the paid social advertising landscape and attracts 65.5% of all social network ad spending worldwide – is a key battleground as brands vie for consumer attention with their dollars.

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One tactic strangely underutilized by brands is Facebook’s Dark Post offering, which many publishers have effectively used to drive a range of objectives.

A dark post is a paid status update, link share, video, or photo that was never meant to be shared as an organic post. Staying true to its name, the post only surfaces as an ad in the News Feed and is not published to the advertiser’s timeline. However, many brands will use dark posts to test variations of a post before publishing the winning version.

While Dark Posts are available on a wide array of platforms including LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram and have been available on Facebook since 2012, they are increasingly popular as of late. If you have seen any images similar to the one below on Facebook, you have noticed dark posts targeting you.


Dark Posts offer several well known advantages to traditional posts, which should interest a wider range of marketers. These include:

Better Targeting of Existing Fans: A key value proposition of Dark Posts is that they allow marketers to create multiple, extremely targeted posts. This has allowed brands like Michael Kors to target users down to product affinity.

Better Targeting of Non-Fans: Allows serving posts to visitors that aren’t fans of the brand page, as well as build custom and look-alike audiences.

Better Targeting Variables: Dark Posts are unique in that they allow brands to use keywords (for example, specific job titles) for targeting, a specificity not possible with Promoted posts.

Ability to Optimize: Brands can test multiple messages, creatives, headlines, call-to-action buttons, videos, and pictures to optimize for the combination of variables that best resonates with the targeted audience. Often times, advertisers dark posting for optimization will publish the winning variation on their timeline as a published post.

Avoiding Ad Fatigue: Targeting very specific individuals with Dark Posts limits the risk of over messaging an entire audience.

Stealth Marketing: It is impossible to get a complete view of competitors’ social media presence with these hyper-targeted strategies. This is the classic glass half full scenario, with a brand’s strategy untraceable by key competitors and vice-versa.

On the downside, creating and optimizing dark post tests can be very time consuming, especially when compared to other Facebook options.  

In the next post of this series, L2 will make the case that more brands should be going dark despite the significant preparation and set-up required.

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