Should ‘Dark Social’ Be Part of Your Social Media Strategy?

What dark social is, what you need to do about it, and how you can incorporate it into your marketing strategy.

Dark Social isn’t scary or spooky, and it has nothing to do with the dark web or back alleys. The term was coined to describe the traffic of online content sharing through private channels such as messaging apps (think WhatsApp), instant messaging (like Facebook Messenger), private email, and text messaging. See? Not scary at all!

Contrary to a public platform like Facebook or LinkedIn where sharing is public and metrics can be measured and tracked, dark social is private and “invisible” to data-tracking programs. This means that dark social metrics are not readily available because, when a piece of content is shared privately, the link does not contain referrer data. Referrer data signals where content originates from by using certain “tags” that are attached to a link. When shared privately (e.g.,  in the dark) links are grouped in with “direct” traffic you see on your backend analytics. 

dark social media

So, why should your brand pay attention to this? Simply put…because everyone does.

Dark social is dominating the social sharing space. If you’ve ever copied and pasted a URL into an email and sent it to a friend, you’ve contributed to dark social. 84% of consumers’ outbound sharing is done through dark social channels such as instant messaging and email.That means the bulk of your customers and potential customers! And the real kicker? You most likely don’t even know about it! This all means that only 16% of sharing is done on social platforms. (Insert head exploding emoji here.)  So, if you want to connect with the invisible audience that is silently advocating for your brand, you need to pay attention. It’s time to shine a light in the dark and get on board with dark social in your marketing strategy.

dark social analytics

What your brand can do about dark social.

Now that you know what dark social is and why you need to pay attention to it, let’s dive into what you can do about it. 

  • Create content worth sharing. The first priority in all of this is to ensure that the content you’re creating is worth sharing. It’s pretty simple…without people wanting to share your content, there is nothing to track.
  • Start tracking dark social by using shortened URL links. Shortened links are unique links built by programs like Bit.ly, TinyURL.com, and Goo.gl. Because they are unique, they can be tracked and no longer live in the dark. They can be shared on social networks, in emails, and on your website. The websites to create these trackable links are pretty straightforward, allowing you to create shortened URLs for free (most of the time). 
  • Ensure your content is optimized for mobile consumption and sharing. The majority of content sharing and online communication is happening on mobile devices, with 62% of clickbacks (clicks to a website) from dark social shares coming from mobile. This is compared to 38% of clicks happening on desktop. In 2015, search inquiries on mobile overtook desktop inquiries, and in 2016, mobile traffic and desktop traffic were just about neck and neck
  • Revisit your social sharing buttons. When was the last time you checked in on the functionality of your website’s social sharing buttons? Ensure that they are easy to find to increase the likelihood of visitors sharing via the buttons instead of copying and pasting the URL. These social sharing buttons contain referral data so they can be tracked and measured. 
  • Consider using Dark Social tools. If you want to get right down to it, you can use social tools like GetSocial.io, AddThis, and ShareThis, among others. Generally speaking, these tools track copy and pasted shares in dark social channels by adding trackable codes or installing codes onto a site. This will take more leg work to get in place but will help you create a sound dark social tracking strategy.

 So, let’s wrap up what we’ve learned about dark social and why it’s important.

Now that you know what dark social is and why you need to pay attention to it, consider the ways you can begin to harness its power. Always begin by creating meaningful, beneficial content that people will want to share, then use the tools available to you to hone in on your audience and track the activity. You can read more about dark social in another Ethos blog post to deepen your understanding. If you have any questions after going through all of this information, feel free to give us a shout.


About Ethos

Ethos is a multiplatform branding agency that develops and executes integrated marketing campaigns across multiple channels for companies throughout the Northeast and beyond. At Ethos, we believe that the most effective way to set a company’s marketing course is by finding its core truth – it’s ethos. We know that once we discover and communicate that core truth, we can truly make a difference to each client’s unique marketing and business objectives. With Ethos, you get more than a Maine branding agency. You get a long-term partner whose goals are your goals.

Learn more about the Ethos approach and the work we’ve done for our clients. Want to have a conversation about your brand’s core truth? Contact us!