Dark Social Rises – All You Need to Know

If you’re thinking that the term ‘Dark Social’ refers to some kind of evil get-together where people indulge in a blood feast to please their dark lords, you won’t be blamed.While it has the potential of troubling social media managers, it’s not as scary as it sounds! It is nothing but social sharing that can’t be accurately tracked. It’s the kind of stuff that is not picked up by any web analytics platform. Let us tread deeper into the world of dark social, it’s importance, and what you can do about it as marketers.


What is dark social?

If someone clicks on your site link from an open social platform such as; Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, in theory, your analytics platform will tell you about the origin of the link. But people are increasingly sharing links through private messaging apps such as; Snapchat, Instagram or WhatsApp, and continue to do so through platforms like SMS or email.
Just think about it: you find an interesting article and simply copy-paste the link, then share it on an open social platform. Millions of people do this on a daily basis, sending lots of traffic to publishers. But there are no referral tags for the links shared this way, and when a visitor clicks on any such link, it will show up as ‘direct traffic’. This is unfair in a way, as it’s not really direct traffic, i.e. it’s unlikely that anyone would type a lengthy URL into their browser. But you can’t expect an analytics platform to tell the difference. Dark social traffic comes from untraceable referrals.

Some platforms responsible for creating dark social traffic are:

- Email - referrers aren’t passed, protects users’ privacy.
- Native mobile apps - Instagram, Facebook, etc.
- Secure Browsing - Clicking on HTTPS to HTTP won’t pass on the referrer.
- Messaging apps - Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat, etc.


Why does it matter?



A RadiumOne study from 2014 states that around 70 percent of all online referrals worldwide, come from dark social. The issue phenomenon would have only become more prevalent since then, considering the increase in the use of private messaging apps. Thus, a huge chunk of referral traffic is extremely difficult to track precisely, and anything that puts a cloud over your data isn’t particularly welcome. You might just end up wasting your time and energy optimising the wrong things if you do not have a clear picture.
You must also consider the value of this type of traffic. If you find a link for a product that your wife might be interested in, and email that link to her, she’s more likely to convert.

This is why dark social traffic is extremely valuable. It’s more like word-of-mouth between people who are more likely to know each other!


What can you do about it?


You may not be able to fully track dark social traffic, but there are steps you can take to narrow things down. If you look at your direct traffic in any analytics platform you’re using, it’s fair to say that any long links, which are lumped in with our direct traffic on analytics - were not typed in manually.

Therefore, it’s pretty safe to assume that most of those links actually belong to dark social.

You could set up a segment in your analytics, that considers all direct traffic links with parameters. For us, it would be links that aren’t digital-guru.in, http://digital-guru.in/blog/ and so on. This enables you to get a reasonably accurate picture of the amount of traffic coming from dark social.

It would also be a good idea to include highly visible sharing buttons on your site (including traceable UTM parameters) to urge people to share content using these, rather than copying and pasting the link. It all boils down to User Experience (UX). Make the share buttons more convenient, then why would someone not use them?

Ensure that you include sharing buttons for WhatsApp, email and other dark social channels. It is more important to include these than buttons such as Twitter and Facebook, where you can track traffic even if the link is copied and pasted.



If you really want to narrow things down and have an idea of how much dark social traffic you’re getting, I doubt you would find a convincing solution for accurately tracking it.
Hopefully, some better tools and techniques will begin to materialise soon, putting social media managers in a more comfortable place!

This article was originally published by Jack Simpson for E-consultancy.

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