Look back to the last message you sent to your friend – what did you send them?
If this message contains a link to a news article on a website that you friend just had to see or the gift that you sent a link to so you could get a second opinion from the group chat – they’re all forms of dark social media.
Your social media accounts are simply a virtual representation of you as a person. But not everyone wants to let the whole world know the things that they’re reading online, and that’s where this form of social media engagement comes in.
What is Dark Social, anyway?
The term “dark social” was coined as early as 2012 in an article written by former deputy editor of The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal. He described this as the ‘process when people share content through private channels, such as instant messaging programmes, messaging apps and email’.
Many may not consider messaging apps to be a social media platform, but we cannot deny that social media platforms are aiming to be more and more conversational than they ever have before. Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp have already overtaken traditional texting methods, and updates to social media apps such as Instagram and Snapchat have seen the integration of chat facilities into their apps, the definition of a ‘social media platform’ is becoming increasingly blurry.
Naturally, this method of private sharing is harder to track than content shared on public platforms, such as your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feed. Simply put, the analytics included within these platforms for businesses do not factor this nature of sharing into their measurement. And, because many people don’t realise that they are doing it in the first place, this form of sharing content is an incredibly powerful tool.
So what’s the downside? Dark social is incredibly difficult track in analytic and web traffic tools. This is frustrating for bloggers and marketers alike when studies have suggested that this form of traffic accounted for approximately 84% of all outbound sharing traffic during 2016.
Analytics programmes struggle to pick this up in your web traffic, as there it is not attributed to a known source. More often than not this traffic comes through labelled ‘direct’ traffic, as no referral attribution tags have been added to it. In more simple terms, if the URL of a page was directly copied and pasted into a chat window with a friend, and they were to click on this from the chat window they would count as ‘direct’ traffic, even though they were in fact a social media referral.
It’s Not All Doom and Gloom
This type of social media sharing can actually be great for brand awareness, and helps to drive qualified leads to your websites. Consumers are more likely to engage with content that they have been sent by their friends than content they scroll past on their newsfeeds.
And, it’s not completely impossible to track. To the untrained eye it might not be strikingly obvious what traffic is a result of dark social media activity. However, by delving deeper into websites analytics you can begin to get a rough idea of what could possibly be referrals as a result of dark social media sharing.
If you find that you have an unusually high level of direct traffic in your analytics, it is possible to filter this by landing page. Anyone who is landing on your homepage is likely to be genuine direct traffic. It is a different story for those longer page URLS of your blogs and inner product pages, as the chances of someone typing out the full URL for a content post is highly unlikely. They are much more likely to have been sent this direct link via some form of social media or email communication.
If you’re quite confident and know your way around Google Analytics, it is possible to set up a Dark Social Media analytics advanced segment. However, there is not always a guarantee that this is completely accurate. There are also a whole host of other tools that claim to measure dark social media activity for you, but again the extent to which these are successful is never clear.
One way to encourage people to avoid sharing links by copying and pasting the URL in a message to their friends is to make your ‘share’ buttons clear and obvious. The easier it is to click a button instead of copying and pasting, the more likely it is that people will actually do it. These buttons will register the share as a referral, and will add tracking codes to help you identify where this referral has come from.
I believe that as the industry develops, somehow we’ll find a way to track the existing forms of dark social media. However, by the time we manage this I have a feeling that twenty other forms will have appeared in their places and the process will start all over again.
Have you ever heard the term dark social before? Will you be using it in the future?