Whilst the term ‘dark social’ to some might suggest a sinister get together or demonic party – the truth is far less ominous.
So what is dark social?
The term ‘dark social’ was coined in an article written in 2012 by former deputy editor of US title The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal. Dark social is simply a form of social sharing and communication that can’t be accurately tracked by social media tools or website analytics platforms.
If somebody clicks a link to your site from an open social platform such as Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, your website analytics should be able to track this and tell you exactly where that referral came from. However, people are increasingly sharing links and discussing topics through private messaging apps such as Slack, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or Snapchat, as well as communicating through email or SMS. This form of communication is known as dark social.
Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, dark social communications cannot be accurately tracked. Instead, when a link is opened from a private messaging app, there is no referral link attached so the visit to the website will show up in your analytics as ‘direct’ traffic – which is not the case.
According to a 2016 RadiumOne study, almost 84% of all online referrals come from dark social globally, which means that the majority of online users are sharing links privately. Data is therefore often skewed and you could end up wasting your time on marketing or advertising in the wrong areas.
Why is dark social important?
Dark social data helps to give a detailed representation of consumers’ real interests – what news, products and topics they really want to discuss and recommend to their friends.
Dark social referrals are therefore incredibly valuable to brands and businesses as the sharing of a link via a private message, is effectively a word of mouth recommendation from someone you (usually) know well. Conversion rates are therefore very high.
RadiumOne’s research also showed that 46 percent of consumers age 55 and older, only share via private communications, therefore dark social is incredibly important if you are trying to influence this demographic.
How can I track dark social referrals?
Unfortunately, you can’t fully track down where dark social referrals come from, but you can make it easier for people to share links via trackable sources.
Things you could do include having easy and visible sharing buttons on your website in order to encourage people to share content using these, rather than copying and pasting the link. As well as public social media sharing buttons, such as Twitter and Facebook, it might be appropriate to include sharing buttons for email, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and other dark social channels. To make things even easier, you could put a copy-and-paste button at the bottom of all of your content (similar to websites like bitly), which would then create unique URLs that can then be tracked.
Also you could try looking at where your ‘direct traffic’ originates from via google analytics. It’s fair to say that any long links such as http://www.karolmarketing.com/portfolio/chaophraya-national-menu-launch/ are not typed in manually and could be assumed to have originated from a dark social referral.
For more tips on dark social and social media optimisation, please get in touch.
A thought piece from Jenny Dawson at Karol Marketing – the forensic PR people