Dark Social: What, Why, & How to Measure it in 2023 (+ Tips)
Feeling a little in the dark about “dark social”?
You’re not alone.
This less-explored facet of digital marketing is revolutionizing the way businesses understand and engage with their online audience.
And here’s the kicker: it’s more pervasive than you might think.
From private messages, emails to undisclosed browsing — these are all part of the elusive realm of dark social.
So how can you measure and leverage it effectively?
Stay with us, because we’re about to demystify this concept, give you actionable insights, and change the way you perceive your digital footprint.
Let’s jump in!
What is Dark Social?
The term ‘dark social’ was coined by Alexis C. Madrigal, a tech editor at Atlantic.com, in 2012 to shed light on this very phenomenon.
He used it to describe the uncharted web traffic originating from external sources that traditional web analytics fail to trace accurately.
To better understand it, imagine you’ve just found a captivating article or video online.
Instead of sharing it on social media channels like your Facebook or Twitter feed for all to see, you directly share it with your friends or family through less public means.
This ‘off the radar’ sharing, happening beyond the periphery of public channels, is precisely what we refer to as “dark social.”
Here are a few common examples of dark social in action:
- Sharing a YouTube video link with a friend via SMS.
- Sending a fascinating article you found to your book club via email.
- Direct messaging a meme to a friend on Instagram.
- Sharing a product link with a family member via WhatsApp.
- Sending an interesting podcast episode to a colleague through Slack.
These instances may seem like everyday digital interactions to you, and that’s because they are.
Yet, to Google Analytics, they are hidden pathways.
As it might seem like visitors found your content by directly typing in the URL, but in reality, they’ve been personally guided there via dark social channels.
Why is Dark Social Important?
In the multifaceted realm of digital marketing, being uninformed is akin to navigating in the dark.
The importance of dark social lies in its ubiquitous yet ‘invisible’ presence.
A study by RadiumOne suggests nearly 84% of consumers’ outbound sharing from publishers’ and marketers’ websites now occurs through private, dark social channels such as email and messaging apps.
Imagine an iceberg; the visible portion represents the tracked social shares, while the submerged part signifies the untracked dark social shares.
Failing to account for this massive portion can result in lost opportunities to engage with a vast segment of your audience.
More than that, these dark social shares can unfold a trove of crucial information about your audience — their preferences, interests, and behaviors.
Grasping this could arm you with the intelligence to tailor your content strategy, driving greater engagement and conversions.
4 Practical Ways to Track Dark Social Media Sharing
Now that we’ve established the importance of dark social, let’s look at how to track this elusive traffic.
It might seem like an uphill task, but there are several tactics and tools you can employ to uncover dark social activity…
1. Use Google Analytics
Google Analytics offers an invaluable way to unravel dark social traffic.
When examining your direct traffic, watch for unusually long URLs that wouldn’t typically be typed in directly.
If they appear, they’re most likely a product of dark social sharing.
Consider a URL like “www.yourwebsite.com/blog/dark-social-explained”.
If such a URL shows up as direct traffic, it’s an improbable candidate for someone to have typed out in their browser, and thus points towards dark social activity.
To make the most out of Google Analytics, employ the “Secondary dimension” feature to analyze direct traffic by landing page.
This strategy allows you to identify which content pieces are attracting the most dark social shares.
2. Employ Link Shorteners or UTM Parameters
This way, you can track your content’s journey even through the labyrinth of dark social.
Suppose you create a unique Bitly link for your latest blog post and share it in a newsletter. If this link gets shared directly with others, you can track the subsequent clicks.
In tandem with Google Analytics, UTM parameters offer an exhaustive view of the channels driving your dark social traffic.
Use the Campaign URL Builder, a free tool from Google, to effortlessly generate UTMs for your links.
3. Leverage Social Tools
Numerous specialized tools can help streamline tracking dark social.
For example, GetSocial delivers comprehensive data on how your content is shared on private channels.
It offers insights into not just the number of dark social shares, but also which content pieces are popular.
These insights, in turn, can be instrumental in refining your content strategy, driving higher engagement.
4. Encourage Social Sharing Buttons
Integrating social sharing buttons on your content reduces the likelihood of dark social sharing.
It makes it simpler for users to share your content directly on their preferred social media platforms, consequently increasing the chances of trackable shares.
By adding easily accessible WhatsApp and Twitter sharing buttons on your blog posts, readers are encouraged to share your content via these channels, making tracking these actions easier.
Maximizing the efficiency of social sharing buttons involves some experimentation.
Test different locations and designs for your buttons to discover what encourages more shares.
A/B testing can reveal what motivates your readers to share content on their social platforms, improving your tracking results.
Navigating the Shadowy Terrain of Dark Social
This article has equipped you with the tools to illuminate your path and to uncover the unseen benefits of dark social.
Harness this knowledge, embrace the possibilities, and you’ll be lighting up your digital strategy in ways you never thought possible.
So, take a deep breath, step into the darkness, and let’s turn on the light together.
Your audience is waiting!