Dark social accounts for more than 80 per cent of all social shares according to a study published by RadiumOne.
For agencies, dark social is an enigma for which there is no easy solution. The term dark social was coined by Alexis C Madrigal, when he was a senior editor at The Atlantic, to refer to the social sharing of content which happens outside of the spaces which can be measured by web analytics.
There is no easy way of measuring the traffic generated from this activity, hence the term dark social. This usually happens when a link is sent via private message, through a text or email or in an online chat.
Because of the rise of “no record” apps like Snapchat or WhatsApp, or the prevalence of using Facebook Messenger or Apple’s Facetime to communicate, lots of businesses could be missing out on this vital part of their social content strategy.
In other words, dark social describes any web traffic that’s not attributed to a known source, such as a social network or a Google search. Referral traffic is usually identified by certain “tags” attached to the link whenever it’s shared.
For those working on behalf of client brands, tracking and analytics is an automatic consideration for any content they share via social media or through scheduled emails using custom links which will identify where a visitor has come from when they land on the website.
However, with dark social, the tracking element of the URL is what’s usually missing and it seems as if the visitor has appeared from nowhere. Anyone working on behalf of a client’s brand needs to accept that when someone shares the content they are putting out, it will more often than not be viewed on a mobile device and that tracking those shares is going to be harder.

Methods of Dealing with Dark Social

One successful method that brands have been using on Facebook in particular is using apps or scripting to set up contact via its Messenger service. If someone responds to an ad or to a post on a page, they’re prompted to move into a Messenger chat with a customer service representative – a move which harkens back to more traditional forms of sales.
Another brand using dark social to mobilise customers is Adidas. They use private messaging to address customer issues, questions, and concerns. Adidas also includes Facebook Messenger (and WhatsApp) customer service options on its website. Directing potential leads into private messaging is a painless way of avoiding missing out on a lot of dark social interactions.

Other Tips for Tracking Dark Social

Social Media Examiner (www.socialmediaexaminer.com) has an excellent article on how to track potential dark social using Google Analytics which you can find here: https://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/how-to-track-dark-social-traffic-in-google-analytics
Following this guide allows you to filter out your most common landing pages i.e. /blog or /pricing and leaves the list of your uncommon URLs which are the ones more likely to be gaining visits via dark social – people copying and pasting the link to share via mobile or messenger or email.
Once you’ve identified this data traffic, it gives you some interesting options for your social analytics. As Madrigal says in his article, it raises two very important points about dark social:

  1. The first is that the most important factor for sharing in a piece of content is the quality of that content itself. No good content = no sharing irrespective of how good your optimisation efforts on social media platforms like Twitter might be.
  2. The emergence of the various social media platforms isn’t what created the social web. What it did was structure the existing methods through the art of publishing – and tracking – those social interactions.

Always use shortened URLs – link shorteners allow you to upload images, track real-time clicks (not including clicks from bots), and have the ability to post to your various social networks like Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and Twitter with trackable links. You can also use the shortened URL in emails or on your website and use Beacon analytics to track how many clicks those links receive and what your social media activity is like.
At its core Beacon is an online marketing analytics platform, designed for digital marketers to better measure and manage their marketing campaigns, so they can save time and effort, and increase their digital marketing ROI. Beacon provides more powerful analytics by showing what happens when people click on your links. It also gives you website analytics for each link – telling you how your website visitors behave after they click the link.
Make sharing easy – On some websites people have to go looking to find the share button. Make sure yours are easily accessible and, on blogs for example, have them either at the top or the bottom of the content and make sure to include as many social media platforms as are relevant to your brand.
You can also make it easier for people to share by adding in more options via your website and social media channels. Let people share via WhatsApp, Snapchat, Reddit, have a Pinterest or Instagram account, use messaging apps like Slack. This way, if your content is shared via those, you will have the tracking information available to see that’s where referrals came from.

In Conclusion

While dark social is impossible to track directly, there are methods and practices you can use, including web analytics for Twitter and Facebook tools like Beacon to track your customer journeys.
Find out how Beacon can improve your marketing, get your free trial today!