What is Dark Social and why, apart from the cool name, should you care?

If you’re a marketeer, the chances are you’ve heard the term Dark Social. It’s been hard to avoid over the last year, climbing pretty much to the top of most buzzword charts and staying there. So, as the title of this post suggests, we’re going to talk about what it is and why you should care about it.

What is it?

Put simply, it’s the sharing of content which can’t be tracked via normal web analytics. If you click through a link which was posted on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or pretty much any other social network, the analytics platform you use *cough, google analytics, cough* tells you how it got to your website thanks to the referral tags which govern this sort of traffic. Dark social is when a user shares a link but does so via a private messenger app – Snapchat, Whatsapp, a text – which don’t add these sort of tags so the traffic turns up as “direct”. This means the high-quality content which one user has liked enough to share with another won’t come up as such and the hard work that a content marketeer has put in goes unregistered.

Why should I care about it?

So this can’t be much of a deal though, right? Being able to trace a customer (or potential customer) through t’internet is what all those frightfully clever content marketers and software developers live for, isn’t it? Turns out not – according to a study done by RadiumOne, online referrals in the UK are almost 75% dark. That means most companies are ignoring the source of huge amounts of their traffic and, what’s more, in all likelihood some of their most valuable traffic.

Think about it. If you click through to a piece of content because you’ve seen it on the web, whether paid advertising or not, then your likelihood of conversion is in the usual ballpark. If you click through on a link shared via a messenger program then chances are this is not just from someone you know but from someone you trust – this is primo referral data which is not turning up on the radar.

Bonus: how can I see dark social?

So by its very nature the tracking is difficult, but thanks to advances in understanding, by no means impossible. You can cut down the variance using some very simple tricks:

  • Shorten your links: rather than sharing raw links, make sure you use a service like Bit.ly or Goo.gl to add trackability to everything
  • Make it easy to share: if you’re looking at the way your content is laid out, take time to optimise the style and placement of the share button – make it easier to do it your way than via Messenger.
  • Keep an eye out: if you’re seeing a spike of traffic coming from other sources over a particular time frame, check your direct – chances are, it’ll coming in there via dark too.

There’s no 100% to track these referrals but by getting a better understanding of your dark traffic you get closer by far to some of the best shares you can get and with those, you can get to understanding your audience in ways you never thought possible.