What is Dark Social In Digital Marketing?

Posted on August 9, 2022
by Rebekah Carter

An Introduction to the Realities of Dark Social 

What is Dark Social In Digital Marketing?

The term “dark social” might strike fear into the hearts of those familiar with the dark web, but it’s not nearly as scary as it seems. The phrase was actually created to describe online content sharing traffic through channels we can’t easily track, like a private messaging app, email, and text. 

It’s no secret that the number of shares actively visible in social media is starting to decline. You’re less likely to see people posting links to their favourite articles and websites directly on their Facebook or Twitter news feed. However, this doesn’t mean people have stopped sharing the things they find interesting. 

What’s happening is people are changing the way they share content. Around 63% of users use messaging apps to share information or content. They’re moving away from the newsfeeds of Facebook and Twitter to use WhatsApp, emails, Messenger, and other tools.

Understanding this “dark social” area is one of the best ways for B2B brands to develop a better insight into their target audience. 

Understanding Dark Social

Most B2B companies pride themselves on being “data-driven” with their marketing strategies because they use attribution software and tracking to help them understand where their leads come from. However, these solutions can only follow so much. Increasingly, the most critical touchpoints in a B2B buyer journey are happening in places we can’t track. 

Examples of dark social environments where there’s no tracking or intent data include:

  • 3rd party events and meet-ups
  • Direct word of mouth through text messages and zoom calls
  • Social platform direct messaging
  • Content platforms like Spotify and Apple Podcasts
  • Communities and groups like Discord, Slack groups, and Facebook groups

Thousands of people use private messaging to share content and help drive website traffic, but these links don’t have the same referral tags as those shared by influencers and affiliates. Even if a recipient does click on a link, you might not know where it comes from. 

Some studies suggest that around 80% of all shares come from dark social. This means most companies base their advertising spend on data on about 20% of what’s happening. 

While social attribution (knowing which social actions drive the best results), will only grow in importance as companies strive to optimise their marketing budget, it’s essential to ensure you’re getting all the facts. 

Without considering dark social, you’re getting a skewed image of the facts and might struggle to truly understand where your customer’s interests and most significant marketing opportunities lie. 

What to Do About Dark Social

So, what can companies do about the rising impact of dark society? The good news is there’s an opportunity for growth here. You can grow your company’s potential and boost brand awareness if you learn how to understand, analyse, and even leverage dark social. You might also end up with a better understanding of your target audience. 

To get started, you’ll need to focus on some of the following ideas:

  • Create shareable content: The essential tool in a dark social strategy is shareable content. Ultimately, you must create blogs, videos, and other pieces with genuine value for your audience. This means taking the time to assess your B2B buyer personas and answer the questions they’re asking in your industry. Consider looking at the content your customers currently share online for insights and talk to your sales teams about the questions they frequently hear from buyers. 
  • Start tracking links: Shortened links are an excellent way to help you track dark social. Using tools like Goo.gl and Bit.ly, you can create unique links for different pieces of content. This means it’s easier to determine which links your audiences are sharing. You can place your shortened link on your website, social media posts, and emails to boost your tracking potential. 
  • Make sure content is optimised: Remember, most customers sharing your content via dark social strategies are doing so on mobile devices. Around 62% of clicks from dark social shares come from a mobile device. To ensure users can get the most out of the content they click on, you’ll need to ensure everything you post is optimised. Focus on developing responsive content and a well-designed website. 
  • Revisit social sharing buttons: Check on the functionality of your website’s social sharing buttons. If your customers have easy access to controls that allow them to instantly share your website links on their social channels, this can mean they’re less likely to copy and paste something into a message. Social sharing buttons come with referral data as standard, so they’re more likely to be tracked and measured. 
  • Consider dark social tools: Tools are being developed to help with the rise of dark social right now. Solutions like AddThis and Getsocial.io can help track copy/pasted shares in dark social channels with trackable codes. It could take a little more work to manage this process correctly, but it’s worth the extra effort. 

Using Dark Social Traffic

For most companies, learning to leverage dark social correctly starts with knowing how to measure this hidden form of traffic correctly. It’s worth creating a segment for dark social in your Google Analytics account, so you can get an idea of how much of your traffic might be attributed to the wrong source. 

The more you can effectively track precisely where your shares are coming from, the more you’ll be able to learn about your audience and your marketing campaigns. Remember, you can also ask your customers about their experiences with your content during a sales conversation. Asking converting customers how they heard about you is a good way to get a behind-the-scenes look at the impact of dark social media on your business. 


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