The term dark social was coined by Alexis C (a Senior Editor at The Atlantic) in an article written in 2012.  So arguably, this is actually a relatively old concept. However, it is only just now that marketers are starting to take notice, and rightly so.

Simply, dark social refers to any content that is shared outside of the public eye (i.e. privately), and therefore outside of what can be measured by web analytics.  I can confidently assume that every person who reads this article will have shared articles or pages through the medium of dark social, most likely because you don’t want the entire world to know that you find “25 things people do when nobody is looking” so entertaining or that you think that “10 things all single girls do” is so uncannily relevant to you.  In fact, it is such a popular way of sharing content that dark social is now responsible for nearly 84% of all outbound sharing.

The most common dark social platforms are:

– Email

– Native Mobile Apps – e.g. Facebook and Instagram

– Messaging apps and Texts – Such as Whatsapp and FB Messenger

However, 90% of social marketing investment is on public platforms, meaning that dark social could be a huge opportunity that businesses currently aren’t accounting for.


1. Dark social has a monumental impact on traffic. RadiumOne reported that in the last 18 months onsite shares via dark social jumped from 69 to 84% of all shares globally.

2. It is a great marketing opportunity to truly get to know your audience. If you can get familiar with your audiences’ dark social habits you can get detailed representations of your consumer’s true interests.

3. A unique demographic that is hard to reach on public social channels. “According to RadiumOne’s research, 46 percent of consumers age 55 and older share only via dark social, as opposed to those in the 16 to 34 age group, where only 19 percent do so.” (Source: https://blog.hootsuite.com/dark-social/)

The impact of dark social is also widespread.  It doesn’t just affect certain e-commerce industries or the blogging community, most industries ranging from personal finance to food and drink are affected, with automotive category ranked the highest at 82.4%, followed by finance (72.1%) FMCG (61%) and retail (56.3%).

Just to get a clear idea of how big a slice of the sharing pie social has, take a look at the below chart from RadiumOne’s study:

If you have ten minutes and are interested in the subject, take a look at the RadiumOne study here – it is an informative read.


There is no 100% fool-proof way of tracking activity in dark social, as, after all, it is private. So the ability to track and join in would be contradictory in nature.  I fear if a genius brain out there manages to crack it, it would dilute the very reason which makes the platform so powerful in the first place.  However below are some tips and tricks that can help along the way that won’t breach dark socials’ privacy credentials.

1. Link shorteners. Shortened URLs can encourage people to share using trackable links. Tools from Google, Bit.ly, and HootSuite can be used to create the links and they supply accompanying analytics on the URLs performance.  Short links are more convenient and easier to cut and paste encouraging avid dark social users to share.  Brands can also use campaign-specific shortened URLs to identify which audiences are engaging most and use the data to create valuable audience segments to target.

2. Brand Presence. Make sure your brand presence is interweaved throughout all content so if anything does get cut, copied and shared, it is still clear who is responsible for the piece.  The last thing you want is to create a groundbreaking article of viral content that gets snipped down and shared and then snowballs across the social media landscape missing any reference for who is responsible for it.

3. Making it personal; shifting towards conversation marketing. This increasing response to one-to-one personal conversation and sharing that we see in dark social has introduced the opportunity for the increasing popularity of Chatbots.  Many businesses are now recognizing Chatbots as more than just CRM platforms. They could soon become the central point to customer services, brand personality and importantly the path to purchase, as this is clearly an environment where people are active – and comfortably – engaging with brands and content.  To understand more on Chatbots there is an article with accompanying slides here that is worth a look.

4. Google Analytics and coding.   “Creating an advanced segment in Google Analytics that tracks visitors who come to your website via direct search, but don’t go through your homepage (Social Media Today has detailed instructions on how to do this).

You can also track dark social using web tools like GetSocial.ioSharethis, and Po.st. These tools allow you to track copy and paste sharing by adding small snippets of code to your website.

Another way businesses can track where cut-and-pasted-link traffic is coming from is by attaching URM (Urchin Tracking Module) codes to all of their URLs.” (http://marketingzen.com/darksocialhowtodeal/)

Overall the best thing that businesses can do about dark social is, simply, be aware of it.  Use easy to share links, make sure your content is full of your branding and make sure your tech and data guy are on point.  Beyond that, it’s about applying a certain level of common sense to your planning and strategy; acknowledge that your audience will more than likely be sharing on dark social, so make it easy for them and if you see a sudden spike in traffic that is unaccounted for, you now know where it may be coming from.

By Lbbotson

Fivenson Studios is based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, our graphic design team specializes in logo and web page design, as well as marketing campaigns for social and print media. From flyers and brochures to targeted landing pages, we aim to bring your company into the spotlight and reach a greater range of potential customers.

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