Dark Social – The Dark Side of Social Media

By May 3, 2017 Stories
Never heard of dark social? Don’t worry, you’re not alone! Dark social is not a new term, it came about back in 2012 and simply refers to social sharing that can’t be accurately tracked.

You might not realise it, but a huge number of us are already using dark social. Think about it… how many times do you share links with friends in a messenger app such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger rather than sharing it with them on social media?

There are a number of reasons why people are choosing to share content privately. It might be to get round the ‘No Social Media at Work’ policy or simply because you’d rather the entire world didn’t know that you find videos of goats fainting absolutely hilarious!

So, why the sudden growth in dark social?

The increase in the use of messenger apps has resulted in a shift in the way we communicate. Facebook Messenger caught up with WhatsApp last year when it hit the 1 billion user milestone.

A few years ago, sharing content was the main way internet users engaged with social media but the rise in privately sharing content has resulted in dark social becoming a type of word of mouth referral.

Word of mouth has always been a challenge for marketers, both in terms of generating it and tracking it. And dark social is proving to be a real headache to marketers wanting to quantify social media results!

Referral traffic from social media to your website can be measured when a link is clicked on within a social media platform, but when that link has been copied and pasted into a messenger app or email it will only show up as direct traffic in your analytics once opened by the recipient.

This means that if you’ve experienced a growth in your direct traffic then, unfortunately, it might not all be down to people directly typing your URL into a browser. A report by marketing firm RadiumOne, stated that dark social is responsible for up to 84% of outbound sharing globally.

Can we track dark social at all?

If we don’t have the full picture of our web analytics, how are we meant to ensure that we aren’t wasting our resources on the wrong thing? This type of sharing is still social and therefore we need to understand it and its value to both prove and improve the effectiveness of your efforts.

We can’t track dark social but there are a few tips and tricks to identify it or reduce it. Firstly, take a look at your direct traffic in your analytics platform. It would be safe to assume that any long links were not typed in manually so there is a good chance that these could be categorised as dark social.

Try and reduce the amount of traffic that falls under the dark social umbrella by making it easier for your users to share content on social media. Prominently display your social sharing buttons (with trackable links!) throughout your site and in all communications. And make sure to include sharing buttons for email, WhatsApp and other dark social channels.

If we are being completely honest, dark social is still a bit of mystery! But there are some really interesting conversations going on about its future. We might not be able to track it just yet, but now it’s becoming a hot topic it won’t be long before some better tools or techniques come about.

For now, get smart with you web analytics, continue to push your social sharing buttons and don’t forget that the best way to ensure your content gets shared is to create interesting and informative material.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on dark social so tweet us @kccomms

This content was first published in Topic UK, May 2017.