What is Dark Social?

Dark Social are those visits of unknown origin, that we don’t know where they come from. We could say it is invisible traffic for analysts.

This video explains the concept really well:

Measurement is a fundamental part of inbound marketing. Knowing the user in depth, testing the actions we take to make him fall in love and even knowing where he comes from, how he got to us is the basis of a successful inbound marketing strategy. The problem is that we can’t always know everything we would like to know about our user.

Should I be worried about Dark Social?

Although this term may sound negative, the truth is that it’s not a big deal, Dark Social is just the name we give to the visits of unknown origin that a website has. We call Dark Social the web content that is shared on the web in ways that are difficult to measure by traditional means.

Some examples would be content sent by e-mail from one user to another, chats, mobile applications or text messages from a cell phone. By not transmitting data, measurement becomes mission impossible.

The traffic generated by these sources varies depending on the sector and the user profile, but it can be more than 50% of the traffic of some generalist webs.

The Dark Social is important not only because of its volume, but also because in many occasions it is a traffic that comes from a contact or reputable source and visits us after a recommendation or mention.

Google analytics shows it as “direct traffic”, but in most cases it is not someone who has written the entire address. According to the studies carried out in this regard, a quarter of the visits to our blogs would come from the Dark Social.

As we see, even web analytics is not an exact science. Therefore, we will have to be exhaustive in measuring our Inbound Marketing actions in order to get as close as possible to our user and to know him more and better every day.

Understanding Dark Social

In the era of data-driven marketing, understanding every facet of web traffic is crucial. There is, however, a mysterious, less-understood side to this digital universe, known as Dark Social. Despite its somewhat ominous name, Dark Social refers to a very common online behavior, one that most of us partake in every day. 

It describes the social sharing of content that occurs outside of what can be measured by web analytics programs. This type of sharing typically happens when a link is sent via online chat or email, rather than shared over a social media platform, allowing it to remain unseen by tracking tools.

In simpler terms, imagine you come across an interesting article while browsing the internet. You copy the link and share it with a few friends via email or instant messaging. This is Dark Social in action. Your friends receive the link, click on it, and read the article. But to the website’s analytics tools, this traffic appears as ‘direct’—it’s unclear where it originated. 

Dark Social covers a broad range of sharing activities, primarily occurring on private digital communication channels. These channels include but are not limited to, email, SMS, instant messaging apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and even direct messages within social media platforms. 

Given the ubiquity of such channels in today’s digital ecosystem, it’s not surprising that Dark Social plays a significant role in how content is shared online. In fact, a study by RadiumOne found that nearly 84% of consumer outbound sharing occurs via Dark Social. This figure underscores the importance of Dark Social and how it’s reshaping the digital marketing landscape. 

Despite its prevalence, Dark Social can often be overlooked or misunderstood due to its elusive nature. However, understanding it can provide valuable insights into consumer behavior, offering a more holistic view of how audiences interact with and share digital content. Recognizing the role of Dark Social is the first step towards leveraging it for more effective and targeted marketing strategies.

In essence, Dark Social represents the unseen, yet vast, portion of web traffic that originates from private channels. It’s a testament to the power of personal recommendations and word-of-mouth in the digital world. As we delve deeper into this topic, we will explore how Dark Social can impact digital marketing strategies, its tracking challenges, and how marketers can make the most out of this dark yet abundant source of web traffic.

The History and Evolution of Dark Social

The term “Dark Social” was first introduced by Alexis C. Madrigal in a 2012 article in The Atlantic. He used this term to describe the vast amount of web traffic that couldn’t be traced back to a known source by standard analytics tools. Madrigal’s choice of the term ‘dark’ drew parallels with the ‘dark matter’ of the universe – much like this astronomical phenomenon, Dark Social was something immense yet virtually undetectable.

At the time of its inception, Dark Social was primarily associated with email and instant messaging platforms. However, as technology evolved, so too did the scope of Dark Social. The rise of smartphones and the subsequent explosion of messaging apps like WhatsApp, Telegram, and Facebook Messenger greatly expanded the realm of Dark Social. This evolution was further amplified by the growing emphasis on privacy and the increasing popularity of private browsing and communication.

Interestingly, the history of Dark Social is essentially a reverse journey compared to most digital trends. While the internet started as a more private, anonymous space, it gradually became more public with the advent of social media. Dark Social, however, represents a step back towards privacy – a shift from public sharing to more private, one-to-one or small group communication.

Today, Dark Social is an integral part of our online interactions. It encapsulates the human desire for private, meaningful conversation and underlines the continued relevance of personal recommendation in the digital age. As we move forward, it’s crucial to understand this evolution and integrate it into our understanding of digital marketing trends and strategies.

The Impact of Dark Social on Digital Marketing

Dark Social presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities for digital marketers. It affects web analytics, influences consumer behavior, and plays a significant role in shaping marketing strategies.

Dark Social and Web Analytics

Dark Social has a profound impact on web analytics. Traditional analytics tools have a blind spot when it comes to Dark Social, often misattributing this traffic as ‘direct.’ This oversight can lead to incomplete or skewed data, creating challenges for marketers trying to understand the source of their traffic and measure the success of their campaigns accurately.

Influence on Consumer Behavior

Dark Social plays a vital role in shaping consumer behavior. It represents the human touch in the digital space – personal recommendations, direct communication, and private sharing. These are powerful influencers that can shape a consumer’s perception of a brand or product. A recommendation shared via Dark Social can carry more weight than a public post on a social media platform because it comes directly from a trusted source – a friend, family member, or colleague.

Impacting Marketing Strategies

The pervasiveness of Dark Social necessitates its integration into marketing strategies. It influences the way marketers approach their campaigns, from the type of content they create to how they track and measure success. Content that is easily shareable via Dark Social channels, such as informative articles, engaging videos, or compelling infographics, can help increase brand awareness and reach.

Moreover, Dark Social can influence targeted marketing efforts. Understanding the demographics and interests of those who share content via Dark Social can help marketers tailor their campaigns to these audiences, potentially leading to higher engagement and conversion rates.

The Role of Dark Social in Campaign Tracking

Campaign tracking is another area where Dark Social leaves its mark. Given the challenges in tracking Dark Social, marketers need to use innovative methods and tools to shed light on this dark traffic. Utilizing URL shorteners or tracking codes can help provide a clearer picture of how content is being shared and engaged with, helping marketers to adapt and optimize their strategies accordingly.

In summary, Dark Social is reshaping the digital marketing landscape. Its impact on web analytics, consumer behavior, and marketing strategies is substantial, making it an essential consideration for marketers aiming to stay ahead in the rapidly evolving digital world. As we delve deeper into this topic, we will explore the challenges of tracking Dark Social and how marketers can leverage this phenomenon for their benefit.

Tracking Dark Social: Challenges and Solutions

The elusive nature of Dark Social presents a unique set of challenges for digital marketers, especially when it comes to tracking and measurement. However, with the right strategies and tools, it’s possible to illuminate this ‘dark’ traffic and leverage it for marketing success.

The Challenge of Tracking Dark Social

The primary challenge with Dark Social is its inherent invisibility to standard analytics tools. Since this traffic comes from private channels, it often appears as ‘direct’ in analytics reports, making it difficult to accurately measure and attribute. This lack of visibility can lead to misinformed marketing decisions and lost opportunities, as a significant portion of social sharing remains unaccounted for.

Tools and Techniques for Tracking Dark Social

Despite the challenges, several methods and tools can help shed some light on Dark Social. 

1. Using UTM Parameters: UTM (Urchin Tracking Module) parameters are tags added to the end of URLs that track where the traffic comes from. By creating custom URLs with UTM parameters for different campaigns or channels, you can get a better idea of where your traffic originates.

2. URL Shorteners: Tools like Bitly can not only make your links more shareable but also track where your clicks are coming from, providing some insights into Dark Social sharing.

3. Advanced Analytics Tools: Some advanced analytics tools offer features to track Dark Social. For instance, tools like GetSocial and ShareThis can help identify and measure your Dark Social traffic.

4. Looking at ‘Direct’ Traffic: If a long, complex URL is showing up as ‘direct’ traffic in your analytics report, it’s unlikely a user typed it out. More likely, it was shared via Dark Social. Keep an eye on these anomalies for clues about your Dark Social traffic.

Integrating Dark Social into Your Analytics

Beyond just tracking, it’s crucial to integrate Dark Social into your overall analytics and reporting. Understanding the role of Dark Social in your web traffic can lead to more accurate data interpretation, better-informed marketing decisions, and more effective strategies. 

Remember, while Dark Social presents challenges, it also represents a massive opportunity to connect with your audience on a deeper level. By finding ways to track and measure this traffic, you can gain a more holistic view of your audience’s behavior, adjust your strategies accordingly, and potentially unlock new opportunities for engagement and conversion. 

In the next section, we’ll explore how marketers can actively leverage Dark Social to drive marketing success.

Leveraging Dark Social for Marketing Success

While Dark Social presents its challenges, it also offers an exciting opportunity for marketers to tap into more personal and meaningful ways of connecting with their audience. Here are some strategies to leverage Dark Social for marketing success:

Creating Shareable Content

At the heart of Dark Social is the act of sharing. Thus, creating highly shareable content is critical. This content should be engaging, valuable, and easy to share through private channels. Whether it’s an informative blog post, an entertaining video, or a compelling infographic, the aim is to encourage users to share your content within their close-knit circles.

Embracing Private Messaging

With a significant number of users preferring private messaging for communication, embracing these platforms can prove advantageous. Brands can create dedicated chatbots for platforms like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp, providing personalized customer service and enabling seamless sharing of content.

Encouraging Dark Social Sharing

Explicitly encouraging users to share content via Dark Social can also be effective. This could be as simple as adding a ‘Share via WhatsApp’ or ‘Email to a friend’ button on your content pages. This not only makes it easier for users to share but also signals that you value this form of sharing.

Personalizing the User Experience

Given the personal nature of Dark Social, personalized marketing strategies can work well. This could involve tailored content, personalized email marketing, or targeted promotions based on user behavior. The aim is to make the user feel valued and understood, encouraging further engagement and sharing.

Using Dark Social for Insights

Lastly, Dark Social can provide valuable insights into your audience’s preferences and behavior. Monitoring what kind of content gets shared through Dark Social, who shares it, and when, can offer a deeper understanding of your audience, informing future content and marketing strategies.

In essence, leveraging Dark Social involves acknowledging the power of personal communication in the digital space. It’s about tapping into the human desire for meaningful, private conversation and using it to build stronger connections with your audience. By understanding and embracing Dark Social, marketers can engage their audience in a more personal, meaningful way, driving higher engagement and potentially leading to increased conversions. 

In the next section, we’ll take a look at the future of Dark Social and its implications for marketers and businesses.

The Future of Dark Social, A Conclusion

As we continue to evolve in the digital age, the role of Dark Social is poised to become even more prominent. The increasing emphasis on privacy, coupled with the rise of new communication platforms, suggests a future where Dark Social could dominate social sharing.

In this future, marketers will need to adapt. They’ll need to develop strategies that not only acknowledge Dark Social but actively incorporate it. This could involve creating more shareable content, embracing private messaging platforms, and investing in better tracking tools to measure the impact of Dark Social.

More than just a trend, Dark Social represents a shift towards more personal, meaningful digital communication. It highlights the power of word-of-mouth in the digital age and underscores the importance of privacy. As such, it presents both a challenge and an opportunity for digital marketers.

To conclude, Dark Social is a powerful, albeit elusive, facet of digital marketing. While it challenges traditional ways of tracking and measurement, it also opens up new avenues for understanding and engaging with audiences. By shedding light on Dark Social, marketers can gain a more holistic view of their audience’s behavior, craft more effective strategies, and ultimately drive better results.

As we navigate this ‘dark’ yet abundant landscape, the key is to remember that at the heart of Dark Social is the human desire for connection. By tapping into this, we can illuminate the dark, making it a powerful tool in our digital marketing arsenal.