Dark social is a broad term relating to hard-to-track traffic (both social and website), mostly via text messages and private chats. As a sharing activity, this is nothing new, but as sharing across mobile devices becomes increasingly easier, the percentage of dark social shares from these devices is in constant growth. One click, and a timepiece that catches your eye on Instagram can be shared, and shared again, via direct messaging. Gucci is one brand to have connected with this meme culture as a way of “infiltrating” private social.
Dark social channels are often linked to private groups, such as on Facebook and WhatsApp, which are fast becoming online community-building tools for brands. Private sales of luxury watches are nothing new, but with the help of these groups, the audience (or potential buyers) widens to a scale that was never previously possible. This has helped further grow the booming second-hand market for premium watches, which financial consultancy Kepler Cheuvreux estimates at $5 billion annually.
A more recent phenomenon is the increased influence of private Facebook groups such as Luxury Watch Club — a community of over 5,000 watch lovers/sellers who use the platform to discuss, legit check and ask for value estimates of timepieces. It is, however, first and foremost a platform for people to sell their luxury watches. These growing Facebook communities make selling easier and more available to the 2.27 billion monthly active users… that’s a lot of eyes looking at your watch.
Private groups are the new watch forums
Some of these groups have gone beyond their function as somewhere to buy and sell watches, to become a place where enthusiasts can share their views on timepieces, brands and the industry as a whole. Often, a larger Facebook group produces a smaller WhatsApp offshoot of specialists or enthusiasts who, as well as discussing the industry, ask for feedback or legit checks on watches they are considering buying.
These groups aren’t owned by brands, but created and run by people who genuinely value the community. A great example of this community spirit is High Fashion Talk, a Facebook group of almost 20,000 people talking about the latest trends, favourite outfits, where to buy products, legit checks and general discussions. There are regularly 50+ posts a day with over 100 comments on every post. The community has even expanded beyond social, with members meeting up at high-profile events such as Fashion Weeks to discuss the runway shows – and of course post photos of themselves in their favourite outfits. More than a saleroom, private groups are the new forums where fans can express opinions and be part of a community.
An opportunity for brands
Luxury watch brands have typically been reluctant to get involved with second-hand sales, fearing they might take away from sales of new releases. This is now changing, as brands realise the best way to take back control of how their products are resold is to integrate pre-owned into their strategy. Richemont’s acquisition of Watchfinder was one of the most publicised examples of this. At SIHH 2018, Audemars Piguet announced its plans to launch a second-hand business, which it has since rolled out in certain stores. MB&F, F.P. Journe and TAG Heuer have all launched their own pre-owned programmes.
By getting involved with private groups, brands can connect with consumers and potential consumers on a far more emotional level — the key being not to shove sales in people’s faces. The most successful community platforms are the ones that run autonomously, and whose key performance indicators revolve around engagement, trust and building a following. Sales will come later, and even if they don’t, the brand will have won new fans… and in the age of sharing, that’s a powerful tool.