Gray social media and social monitoring tools

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Mark Schaefer asked the excellent question on his blog, how do we track, measure, and deal with gray social media? (or any nebulous marketing audience)

His definition of gray social media are interactions that are too small or too disparate to register as “buy now!” signals in most marketing automation software, yet because of offline interactions may be quite meaningful:

I would like to propose today that between dark social media and light social media, there is a third category that is rich in undiscovered marketing opportunity — Gray Social Media. These are the small, still voices who are clearly telling us they’re there, but we can’t detect their quiet signals and capture the data. – Mark W. Schaefer

How do we detect gray social media?

One possible answer is in meta-data. For example, we may be able to identify untracked influencers by who they influence in turn. Take Dawn Gartin, a follower of Mark’s, as mapped below with the orange arrow (Mark is the pink arrow):


Dawn has conversed very briefly with Mark and shared one of his links. It’s not a strong relationship, but it’s a relationship nonetheless. Further, Dawn can activate several other nodes in Mark’s network who can spread the word, such as Eric T. Tung and Laura Pence (@socialsavvygeek).

This is an example of the gray social network. We can find it by looking for those people who appear as “weak” interactions, but still activate other nodes in the network.

How else might you find these gray social networks? Look off of social media. Look to things like the Moz SEO suite to identify new, fresh links that slip in under the radar. Here are a few new links to Mark’s website recently:


Above, we have a Dutch blog on social media strategy linking to Mark as a resource, followed by a podcast, and then further down, a book review of Mark’s Social Media Explained book. How many of these people triggered a monitoring system to notify Mark? I don’t know for sure, but I’d wager that none did, because Mark is a super nice guy who ALWAYS goes out of his way to thank you if he sees it, and it’s clear he didn’t see this update:


Laura Sandonato’s updates were missed by monitoring systems. The Dutch blog above might be ushering Mark into a new market, but because of language differences, become gray social media. The podcast above likely contains references to Mark in the show as well as in the show notes. All of this is gray.

My take on Mark’s theory about gray social media: Gray social media exists inversely proportional to the capabilities of your monitoring and metrics systems. The more resources you’ve devoted to stringent monitoring, the less stuff will fall through the cracks.

The followup question is: how much gray social media can your brand tolerate before its business impact becomes important enough for you to track it?

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2 responses to “Gray social media and social monitoring tools”

  1. Amazing insights. Thank you for this gift!

  2. GetSocial Avatar

    On point! Great insights.

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