Dark Social: Why So Serious?

Just to clear one thing up, dark social isn’t how Batman connects with his fans.

The term dark social was created in 2012 by Alexis C. Madrigal in one of his influential posts for The Atlantic. It was used to refer to web traffic which has come from outside sources, places that web analytics are typically not able to track. Madrigal went on to explain that dark social would occur whenever someone shares content by passing it on in social environments such as community forums, emails or via instant messaging.

Users will continually talk about the brands they like and hopefully you’re one of them. While it’s essential that you have a plethora of social media channels to be in constant contact with any potential users or customers, it has also become a necessity to track your traffic so that you can examine which channels are working and which aren’t. This is how informed decisions are made. This also makes dark social something of a problem.

While reaching new visitors will never be a genuine problem in itself, the issue with your content or products being shared over these dark channels is that all resulting visits will be processed as direct traffic. You may not think that is a big deal, but it is. While all dark social visits can be filed as direct traffic, saying all direct traffic is dark social could not be further from the truth. Direct traffic in this instance is a grey area. It may look like the clicks are coming from users manually typing out URLs or using bookmarks, but it might be indistinguishable social referrals.

To turn this problem into a solution which can help your digital strategy it is useful to make use of URL shorteners to allow a better understanding of the traffic coming to your site. With URL shortening you now have the ability to see where your data is coming from and, when used correctly, these short URLs can help you build a custom addressable audience. Places where you can use shortened URLs include: social posts, email campaigns, blogs, multimedia and even offline campaigns.

“According to new data on many media sites, 69% of social referrals came from dark social. 20% came from Facebook.” - Alexis C. Madrigal

Digital Marketers will always be looking for the ‘new thing’ that will catapult clients to the top of each Twitter feed, Facebook timeline and search results page. However, no matter what your role is, if you aren’t looking at what your current data is telling you then you will miss out on valuable opportunities. Applying custom URLs to different channels can provide an insight into an area that was previously a blind spot.

The data that you can collect from these dark social channels will help you understand the interests of your sharers and recipients. People share content for many reasons on various channels, but with dark social being so controlled and private, this information isn’t immediately accessible. You need to put in the work, through URL shortening or other means, to identify the source and make this data meaningful.

If your business isn’t on top of its data you could not only be missing out on valuable strategic information, but on little success stories. After all, if a spike in traffic came from The Dark Knight sharing your latest campaign, you’d want to know about it, right?

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