Shining a Light on Dark Social & Your Marketing Strategy

Right now you might be asking, “What is Dark Social?

While it may sound oddly sinister, “Dark Social” is a term used simply to describe social interactions that can not be tracked or measured by traditional analytics.

The term was first coined in 2012 by former deputy editor of The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal, in this thought-provoking article.

Madrigal began to question the true impact that social networking sites had on social sharing. While marketers acted as if all social traffic was stemming from these social networks, Madrigal shared a familiar tale of passing links between friends in emails and over instant messaging chats.

It wasn’t until Madrigal had a meeting with real-time web analytics firm, Chartbeat, that light was finally shed on the incredible impact of Dark Social.

In fact, Madrigal found that a whopping 56.5% of his social traffic was coming, not from a particular social network, but from Dark Social. That was more than 2.5 times the impact of Facebook traffic at the time!

Since that article was published, marketers and search engine optimization specialists alike have been intrigued by the concept of dark social.

In this post, I’m going to further explain what dark social means, why it matters, and what you can do use it to your advantage.

What is Dark Social?

Dark social is when people share content through private channels such as instant messaging programs, messaging apps, and email.

Let’s say somebody is browsing your Facebook page and clicks on one of your article links, your analytics platform will, in theory, tell you exactly where that referral came from.

On the other hand, if that same person liked the article so much that they want to share it with their coworker, they’re going to copy the link and pop it in a Slack convo, more often than not, without any tracking data attached.

If you’re watching your website’s analytics closely, you’ve probably noticed that your “direct” traffic accounts for a pretty big piece of your traffic pie, but you’re probably wondering how thousands of people knew to type something like  “https://www.ruleoneinvesting.com/blog/how-to-invest/warren-buffett-quotes-on-investing-success” into a browser window.

Well, it turns out that Dark Social links shared similar to the example above, are labeled as “direct” in Google Analytics.

Why Does Dark Social Matter?

Dark Social is dominating how content is getting shared online. Since 2016, Dark Social shares as a percent of on-site shares jumped from 69% to 84% globally.

When you really think about it, Dark Social is how your existing customers and prospects are recruiting your future customers… don’t ignore it!

Another opportunity for Dark Social is reaching a unique demographic.

If you’re consumers fall into the 55 and older age group, pay attention…

According to research performed by the online data company, RadiumOne, 46% of consumers age 55 and older share only via dark social, as opposed to those in the 16 to 34 age group, where only 19% do so.

Finally, Dark Social can help you understand your customers’ interests better.

Since Dark Social shares are personalized to the recipient, the data represents a more accurate picture of your consumer. This information can be used to enhance your data-driven media buying so that you can capture the attention of your consumers at just the right moment in their customer journey.

What Can You Do About Dark Social?

In all honesty, Dark Social is still very much a mystery to many marketers, but here are a few ways that you can build a strategy around it and start engaging with your audience in a fresh, new way.

The very nature of Dark Social channels are highly personalized and self-selecting communities. This can make it hard for brands to access the conversations but offers a competitive advantage for those that can.

One of the easiest ways to access these conversations is to recruit brand ambassadors and influencers to speak on your behalf. There are a few things that you want to keep in mind when entering the ‘dark side:’

First, be sure the content going into your Dark Social channels is unique. Re-using messaging and creatives from the campaigns on your social channels can be perceived as irrelevant and insincere when entering these private channels.

Another important element is to focus on the conversation. Too many marketers see a new platform as a chance to broadcast their own message, but the key to navigating Dark Social sharing is to focus on driving meaningful conversation and adding in your brand messaging organically.

Last, you’ll want to ditch the sales talk altogether. Find another way to add to the conversation and share your message. Customers today are hyper-attuned to sales jargon and ads, and while they may accept this in other channels, it will not work here.

For anyone who publishes content online, Dark Social plays a role in your business. There may not be a great way to track your dark social efforts with 100% accuracy right now, but that doesn’t mean you can ignore Dark Social altogether.

The conversation around Dark Social continues to deliver some really interesting insights about the future of sharing, so keep researching and start working on your Dark Social strategy now.

Do you consider Dark Social as part of your marketing strategy?

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Bridget is the Social Media Manager at Brandetize. She creates shareable graphics, content, and helps manage the social media strategy for all of our wonderful clients.