What Brands Need to Know About the Dark Web
The dark web.
It’s a “hidden version” of the web you already know and use, which requires its own browser (and typically a VPN) to access.
It typically has a negative connotation because of the anonymity and privacy associated with it. Estimates put the dark web at about 5 to 6 percent of the total internet. It’s not illegal to use, but illegal activities do take place there on a regular basis (think: hiring hackers and stolen subscription credentials).
That’s one side of the dark web.
But there’s another side—and one that concerns brands. Most marketers never think about the dark web in terms of a brand perspective, but there actually may be mentions, interactions and other legitimate activities taking place that could offer business opportunities. Without the ability to monitor and engage, these are typically never noticed or acted upon.
For example, did you know there’s an entire site called The Hidden Wiki? It is, essentially, the hidden version of Wikipedia.
The only way to access it is to know the actual page URL (which typically includes .onion) or to have access to a directory of sites. This is an area for topics that writers wouldn’t feel safe discussing on the regular web—whistleblowing is one example, or opinions that could face government censorship in certain countries.
It may seem unlikely, but the truth is that these conversations could mention or include your brand. But since you can’t just do a simple Google search, it’s critical to know where to look and take time to research the various dark web hubs that could impact your business.
But just having the right tools isn’t enough to start engaging on the dark web. You’ve also got to know how to keep your employees and brand safe once the dark web becomes a part of your marketing.
Create your own guidelines for when, how and why someone in your organization might use or reference the dark web.
For example, if your marketing team develops a way to interact with a community there, ensure they understand the extreme emphasis on privacy that dark web users share. Doing something that violates that, like asking for personal information, would cause your brand to lose credibility or otherwise cause communication to cease.
Because malware, hacks and other nefarious acts may occur on the dark web, engage or employ a cybersecurity team to proactively prevent negative encounters.
When engaging with a company that helps with prevention and/or monitoring, ensure they:
- Operate in a safe and secure environment and that all search queries and all investigation records remain inside the perimeter of the organization.
- Have the ability to integrate with your current systems and/or create a cost-effective solution to ensure your team can identify if it’s an investment you need.
Use non-dark web forums to learn more
Participating within brand guidelines on sites like Reddit or Quora can help you learn more about the dark web and identify ways to use or engage. Search for subreddits or questions within the site to read what people are saying, doing and thinking. Use it as a litmus test for your own organizational efforts.
Plan for dark web shift
A brand’s typical marketing and sales strategies don’t stand a chance on the dark web. In fact, most users go there to avoid brands. In your next team meeting, think about what your marketing or advertising would look like if it had to go “dark.”
Force yourself to think about things like privacy, aliases, indirect marketing, and the nuances of those online communities and sites.
If one thing is for sure, it’s that privacy online is never guaranteed. Brands are made up of people, and people are what power both the dark web and the clearnet (the internet you most likely use). Participating in the dark web does not equal illegal activities, but you need to be smart about where you search, interact and spend your time there.
As internet trends grow and change, we may find a time where more people utilize the dark web and that will inherently impact your ability to reach, communicate and even sell to your target audience.