Understanding Dark Social In Marketing was originally published on Forbes.com.
Dark social isn’t as ominous as it sounds, but in social and digital marketing, it’s an important term to know and understand how to navigate. But let’s start with defining what it is. Dark social was a word coined by journalist Alexis C. Madrigal in 2012 and refers to the social sharing of content that occurs outside of the public eye in the digital landscape. It encompasses any digital communication that can’t be tracked by conventional web analytics tools, occurring primarily via private channels such as emails, direct messages on social media platforms, messaging apps, SMS, and any other form of private, digital conversation. Think of the times you may have shared a link for a product or event with friends via a text message group. That’s an example of how you’ve participated in dark social.
The “dark” aspect of dark social refers to the fact that these shares are invisible to marketers, causing these interactions to fall off the radar of traditional digital tracking methodologies. It’s estimated that up to 84% of all online sharing activity occurs through dark social, making it a digital marketing phenomenon that requires in-depth understanding and strategic utilization.
Dark Social And Its Impact On Marketing
Dark social has a profound impact on social and digital marketing strategies. It evades the reach of standard tracking tools and obscures a significant portion of consumer behavior and interaction, leading to incomplete or skewed data on customer engagement, the effectiveness of marketing campaigns, and even conversion paths.
Consequently, businesses may misattribute traffic sources, underestimating the power of organic, peer-to-peer sharing while overvaluing other channels. This misinterpretation can lead to misguided marketing decisions and misplaced advertising spending.
Harnessing Dark Social In Marketing Strategies
But it isn’t all doom and gloom for marketers. Despite its elusive nature, it offers many opportunities for enhancing digital marketing strategies (and traditional strategies, too!). Here are a few ways to harness dark social and make it work for your brand:
- Encourage private sharing. Emphasize sharing through dark social by providing a “share via WhatsApp,” “share via email,” or “share via SMS” button on your website or blog. By promoting these private sharing methods, you can leverage the power of personal recommendations, which are known to significantly influence purchasing decisions.
- Use trackable links. This is important. Incorporate the use of trackable URLs with UTM parameters for content shared digitally. This allows marketers to trace the origin of the click back to the specific campaign or content piece, helping to shed some light on dark social activity.
- Create content that invites sharing. Create engaging and valuable content that compels users to share it within their private networks. Personal stories, how-to guides, exclusive deals, or compelling infographics are some of the content types our agency has seen trigger high shareability.
- Create your own dark social channel. From private subreddits to invite-only Facebook groups, these communities are great ways to harness dark social.
Understanding Conversations In Dark Social
Since the essence of dark social lies in its private nature, listening in on these conversations presents a challenge. However, there are indirect strategies that marketers can employ to better understand what’s being discussed.
- Surveys and Direct Feedback: One of the simplest and most effective ways to understand what’s being discussed in dark social channels is to ask. Engage with your audience through surveys and social media. Add a “How did you hear about us?” question on your website, or ensure that your sales team or front desk asks that same question at checkout.
- Social Listening Tools: While they can’t peer directly into private conversations, these tools can provide insights into broader trends, customer sentiments, and hot topics related to your brand or industry.
Integrating Dark Social Into Marketing Analytics
While measuring dark social activity can be challenging, it is not entirely impossible. Some strategies for integrating dark social into your marketing analytics include:
- Google Analytics Segmentation: You can create a segment in Google Analytics to monitor direct traffic to deep pages. A sudden increase in direct traffic to these specific pages may imply dark social sharing.
- Using Dark Social Tools: There are some tools designed to help track dark social traffic. These tools provide codes that you can embed into your website to generate data on social shares that happen privately.
- Link Shorteners: Using link-shortening services like Bitly can help track how many times a link gets clicked, which can give some insight into sharing on dark social channels. If you use a social media scheduling dashboard, many of them offer link shorteners within their platform.
Dark social represents a significant opportunity for marketers to tap into the vast realm of private content sharing. By understanding what dark social is and its impact on marketing, marketers can leverage it to enhance their traditional, social, and digital marketing strategies. While dark social may present challenges in measurement and attribution, adopting the right tools and methodologies can help marketers gain valuable insights and optimize their strategies in this evolving landscape.