What is Dark Social?

Dark social isn’t as scary as it sounds

Dark Social may sound threatening, but it is simply a phrase for content shared via social media that marketers cannot easily trace. Dark social is about the traffic of online sharing rather than the content.

These can be described as invisible shares that happen privately one-to-one through channels such as messenger apps, text messages and email (in the contrary to other online social media sites which consist of one-to-many methods like sharing to a Facebook wall or Twitter feed, which is done publicly).

A link to a website sent between two friends on WhatsApp is an example of dark social. The user will be taken to the website after clicking the link in the app, but tracking how this person arrived at the website is virtually impossible. This is simply due to the fact that the two friends’ chat was encrypted, and hence the link did not have a specific source associated with it.

To digital marketers, the traffic that has visited their website is from an unknown source since these shares do not contain any referral data about the origin. In web analytic services such as Google Analytics, dark social traffic will often appear as though they came through direct traffic, even though a user did not type the whole link into their search browser.

This makes it tougher for marketers to assess the effectiveness of their social media marketing approach and make necessary changes. It’s estimated that most sharing online is carried out through dark social, and although it’s almost impossible to track all dark social traffic, there are a few things that you can take into consideration to see if dark social is referring large amounts of traffic to your site.

What you need to know about dark social

Dark social traffic is unlikely to go away as more online users seek encrypted services to ensure that their interactions are private and protected. So, it’s time to adjust and start implementing the following:

  • You can overcome this lack of transparency by giving more appealing ways to share links than simply copying and pasting into another app. For instance, you can use a prominent copy-paste button, share buttons or buttons to send a link with a referral tag directly to a dark social channel like messenger apps, text messages and email.
  • In Google Analytics, look at the length of the links in your direct traffic. If the URL is extremely long, it’s quite improbable that the user typed it in naturally in a search browser, and is often a case of dark social traffic.

Talk to us about Dark Social and your social strategy today!

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