Secret social media almost sounds like an oxymoron theses days. You may be thinking of that small (but growing) percentage that have a locked Instagram account, but the area I’m delving into are the are of dark social that encompasses closed and secret groups, societies, clubs if you will. These reside mainly on Facebook (for the general non-techie public), though they branch out from there, and these groups have the ability to strongly affect a brand.

Oh and another thing – they are behind closed doors, so no access to the data, no matter how good your agency’s data team is.

Having been in this industry and this field for so long, I have to admit, I was a bit shocked by what felt was like underground activity taking place when I finally entered into this space. The truth is I wasn’t interested. Forums hadn’t been my thing for a long time, I found all the arguing, trolling and lack of spelling properly just too frustrating and I have stayed away. So with groups, apart from a few close friend ones, I’ve approached them as an evolution of forums and just passed them by.

Now though, now I’m addicted and on them daily.

Over the past year of maternity leave I have had a million topics running through my mind to post about, but haven’t had the time/brain power (and to be 100% honest, I wrote most of this in early September!) From all of these topics, I decided to take a look at the private groups on Facebook where recommendations are taking place. The nuances and the rich data abyss.

For some reason, once I found out I was pregnant, this world opened up to me. There are the obvious reasons that I’ve mentioned before, with places like mumsnet where you are getting support from others in the same situation, but then there were these other groups I was invited/added to, that weren’t just pregnancy focused, and with the most surprising one was actually locally focused. Once I saw all the people I know who were there and the back dated conversations I felt like I had been totally out of the loop!

I’ll focus on one national and one local group, outlining their benefits and dangers to brands (on and offline, big and small).

1. Can I Breastfeed In It? UK the closed FB group for Can I Breastfeed In It – 30k+ members

You may find it hard to believe but finding decent maternity clothes and clothes that you can breastfeed in, especially for specific occasions, can be VERY difficult – and don’t get me started on bras! This group enables its thousands of members to provide advice, tips, deals they find, support and – you’ve guesses it – the perfect clothes to breastfeed in! And not just the clothes, but reviews, any alterations needed, are they true to size etc. And always a link so others can benefit to.

But who benefits the most? The brands. Well, actually, finally finding the right dress for a wedding or birthday bash that you can feed in is a pretty big win, but the money goes to the brands.

When I first entered this group I was bombarded with the posts and then I started to notice how quickly items would sell out when a link was shared. SELL OUT. One post on this group to an item and it sells out!

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From my experience, this is where the brand (including but not limited to ASOS, Lipsy, Lindy Bop, Primark, Closet London) will see significant amounts of Facebook traffic and conversions (if everything is set up properly) however will be missing the fact that they are being driven by a hidden group of influencers and data that drives traffic to their brands. I know what you may be thinking now, they can just pair maternity/breastfeeding clothing over Facebook conversions, but just because the items are recommended on a breastfeeding group doesn’t mean they are maternity/bf specific clothes. A big black hole of key data that these brands could apply to their ad buying/targeting, their new lines and understanding who their audience really is.

2. Edinburgh Gossip Girls (aka EGG) – 6.1k members

One of the many things you’ll see across social at the moment is the rise of girl gangs. Not like Crips and Bloods, but more the outspoken support of one another, rather than the mom shaming/slut shaming/talking behind each others backs that happens far too often. Instead it’s celebrating that we are all in this together and we’re each doing the best job we can, so let’s help each other out. EGG is a great example of this.

This smaller, local group, is invite only through a current member of the group (shows how cool I am since it took me ages to get invited!). The group became so successful with the selling/giving/trading posts that there has been a spin-off specifically dedicated to those activities.

What is brilliant about EGG, is it (and to the admin’s sometimes annoyance) is a great replacement for Google. You get proper, local recommendations, from real people,  and most of the time recommendations are backed up by other members who have experienced the same and/or have had different experiences. Sometimes people you haven’t seen/spoken to in ages even pop out of the woodworks to answer your questions/help you out, adding that additional layer of trust and faith in your decision.

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While this is a local group, it covers all sorts of areas. For me personally I’ve used to to find: A painter, a plumber, a wedding photographer, a wedding caterer, where to buy the best name labels for kids stuff, how to get in shape after having a baby (was introduced to Edinburgh Buggy Boot Camp <– Highly recommend it for new mums!) For others it’s questions about which airline to use, where to go on holiday, the best hotel in London, hidden secret spots of NYC, house extensions, kids sleep issues and it goes on AND ON.

For local tradesman, companies and independent shops this group provides a space for members to share their experiences with 6k local people who may want to/be able use their services. Don’t deliver what you promised, provided a bad service (particularly if it’s been more than once), over priced, shoddy work or just being plain rude will put you on the ‘never use’ list of members. On the flip side, I’ve been told by some service providers that once they are mentioned or recommended on this group, they sell out/get fully booked for months. And unlike Groupon, the group doesn’t take most of their earnings!

There are quite a few business owners who are part of the group, as well as people who have clients where the group can be use to their advantage. This is fine and welcomed as long as it’s genuinely something of use to the members and adds a that genuine personal touch when you engage with someone that works for the brand directly. They don’t push their product, but are actively engaged in the group and when an opportunity presents itself, lets members know they can be of service. Several companies have caught on and are now working with the admin of the group to provide special offers, deals, competitions, parties and then some.

Apart from being female, using technology and living in Edinburgh, the group doesn’t conform to any other specific demographic groups. Members range from probably 16 – 70, all types of income, all types of languages, all types of family/relationships statuses, from all post codes. From eyelash extensions to solicitors, Soma Osteopathy in Leith to Louis Vuitton on Bond Street – no question or recommendation is off the table.

This is where it’s key for brands to have their ear to the ground and to engage with their consumers. You don’t have to be a large organisation that tracks as much data as possible and hires specialists (this obviously wouldn’t help you here anyhow as it’s behind locked walls), but by just asking your clients/customers where they heard about you can provided some very key insight into how your business is performing and where you could/should be focusing your efforts or where you could make a some simple, but effective changes.

Groups are nothing new and neither are recommendations from people you know. Getting 50 – 60 responses in minutes is maybe a bit newer though! What is important here is that brands need to find other ways to get data and vital information they are missing out on and finding out where their business is actually coming from. On the flip side, maybe why there isn’t more of it. What do people really think about your service, their sentiment and what can you do to make it better.

I suppose the last learning here is a simple one: Always provide the best service possible and treat people in the best way possible, because you never know where and whom they can be sharing their experience with. Customer service 101.