digital marketing, digital strategy, social media marketing

What is dark social and what should marketers be doing about it?

According to recent research by RadiumOne, around 84% of outbound sharing online happens through a medium known as ‘dark social’. But what is this mysterious dark social and is it something that marketers need to know about?

Dark social in a nutshell

You’ll be relieved to learn that dark social is not something shady or illicit. It is simply a term to describe when web users take to private online communication methods to share social media content. For example, someone wanting to share an article with a friend may copy and paste the link in a private instant message or email, rather than using the ‘share’ button on a social media site.

So, what’s wrong with this? The crucial point for marketers is that this dark social activity isn’t trackable. It represents meaningful engagement between the user and your content, which could even lead to conversions, but it won’t appear in any of your analytics data. If you’ve ever wondered where all the ‘direct’ traffic in your analytics data is coming from, dark social could be the culprit.

This gives marketers an incomplete picture of the effectiveness of their campaigns, means they are potentially measuring the wrong things, and could also lead to missing out on a spectacular marketing opportunity.

What should marketers be doing about dark social?

Despite the prevalence of dark social, hardly any online marketers seem to be particularly concerned about it.  Econsultancy’s research found that just 4% considered the rise of dark social as a barrier when trying to “build a joined-up view of the customer journey”.

Despite this, there are many persuasive reasons why digital marketing professional may want to take a minute to look into the dark social phenomenon. For example:

  • It can reach unique demographics – RadiumOne found that 46% of people aged 55 or over only use dark social to share content, compared to just 19% of 16 to 34-year-olds.
  • It can affect all sectors, particularly food and drink, personal finance and travel
  • Dark social offers a unique insight into customers real interests, by looking at what they share in private with those closest to them
  • It can have a big impact on traffic, with RadiumOne finding that 84% of all on-site shares came from dark social.

Practical tips to harness dark social

One of the possible reasons why digital marketers aren’t paying much attention to dark social is that they think there isn’t anything they can do about it, but this isn’t strictly true. Hootsuite has a few helpful tips, including:

  • Shortening links for use on social media, to make it easier for users to click on them
  • Make use of dark social tools, which can help marketers to track an analyse the origins of dark social traffic. Popular tools include ShareThis, and
  • Make sharing easier! If your customers are going to the effort of copying and pasting links to share your content rather than clicking a simple ‘share’ button, the first thing to check is how visible this button is and how easy or difficult your content is to share.

For more help with social media marketing, contact the experts at Ambos Digital.

further reading