Shedding Some Light On Dark Social

June 29, 2015

If you’re in the dark when it comes to the ‘under-the-radar’ side of social, don’t be scared. It’s not as frightening as it sounds.

You’ve probably heard the term ‘dark social media’ being discussed in recent times, but may not know exactly what it means or how it could affect your business. Various articles I’ve come across have helped explain it.

In its simplest terms, ‘dark social’ – a term coined by Alexis Madrigal from The Atlantic – is any hidden traffic to your site where your analytics can’t work out the exact source of where it came from. So, for example, links shared via email or instant messenger.

A study by RadiumOne revealed that dark social inbound traffic accounts for almost three-quarters (74%) of UK online sharing activity. That’s a lot of “invisible” viewers.

Apps like SnapChat and WhatsApp are good examples of apps through which links are shared; 50 billion messages are received everyday via WhatsApp, and some websites now even feature a WhatsApp ‘share’ button on their pages. However, if I sent someone a link via WhatsApp or my Facebook app, for example, and they clicked on it, Google Analytics would count this as a “direct” hit to that website.

So what? Sharing is caring – why does it matter how it’s done? Well, when someone (a friend, colleague or family member, for example) sends you a link to a piece of content, a product or service, that’s a very powerful signal right there. This one-to-one messaging means the recipient is essentially ‘hand-picked’ by the sender, and this could present businesses with opportunities to tap into audience intent and interest.  

Dark social opens up a whole new arena for social listening, but only if you know how to track it. This means examining traffic sources and mapping shares that have come from unknown sources. Tools can also be put in place to help trace traffic patterns labelled ‘dark social’ shares. However, unless more sophisticated and complex tools are implemented, you can’t guarantee you will be tracking these kinds of shares.

It seems to me that adding dark social shares to your tracking toolbox is pretty essential. What do you think?


Jessica Ellis - Business Development Director