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Shining the light On dark social

Shining the light On dark social
Lauren A Lauren Photo

Lauren Swarbrick

Social Media

Shining The Light On Dark Social

Less sinister than its name suggests, dark social describes any web traffic that’s not attributed to a known source. Although an irksome challenge for digital marketers, for savvy brands and businesses who are willing to embrace it, dark social also presents opportunities.

We all contribute towards dark social (sharing in the dark) on a daily basis with our snaps, text messages and emails. When you privately share a link i.e. copying and pasting a link and sending it via other digital channels such as messaging apps (WhatsApp, WeChat, Kik, Snapchat and Facebook Messenger), text or email, you are engaging in dark social. People share more via dark social than all other social networks combined, in fact according to a report by RadiumOne, 32% of people surveyed only ever share using dark social.

Shining the light On dark social

According to another of RadiumOne’s studies, almost 75% of all online referrals in the UK come from dark social (for some sectors, the figure is over 90%), and with the increasing usage of private messaging apps this figure will only have got bigger, and will continue to do so. To say it’s a huge trend is putting it mildly.

Dark social is extremely powerful. Because of the fact that it is private peer sharing between people who know and trust each other, dark social sharing carries much more value than a public broadcast - it is more trusted and therefore higher converting. In fact, reports show that clickback rates on links shared via dark social are far higher than by any other type of sharing. This is the sort of advocacy and trust that advertising simply cannot buy and it’s one of the reasons why content marketing can be so effective.

If you are unable to track where most of your traffic is coming from, you will not be able to figure out how content, products, or channels are performing and therefore where to concentrate your marketing efforts. Therefore for brands and businesses that publish content online, it’s important to know where the majority of their readers come from, so the percentage of traffic that dark social accounts for is a vital figure to know. Unfortunately because dark social links don’t contain referrer data, the traffic they generate gets lumped into ‘direct traffic’ in your web analytics which makes it difficult to track accurately.

As we can see from the stats, social sharing is a vital aspect in the amplification of your content marketing, yet, you can’t even see that it’s happening in most cases. If you don't account for dark social, it’s almost certain that your online campaigns are more effective than you realise which means that you’re optimising campaigns based on incomplete data.

Because of the nature of the beast it’s impossible to fully track dark social traffic, but there are some tactics you can employ to monitor dark social sharing and get a better understanding of how much traffic is coming from dark social activities.

1. Utilise Shortened URLsUse a URL shortener such as Bitly to create a unique short URL for every platform and post. This provides every post with a distinct identifier that allows you to track clickbacks to measure effectiveness on a case by case basis.

2. Track Copy and Paste Activity Use a copy and paste service like SiteCTRL so that when the user copies a portion of your web page, the copied content is automatically wrapped within a trackable URL.

3. Include Highly Visible Sharing ButtonsInclude highly visible sharing buttons on your site (including UTM parameters so you can track them) to encourage users to share content using these rather than copying and pasting the link. Make sure you include sharing buttons for dark social channels (message, email, private message) as well as public social platforms.

4. Analyse Your Direct TrafficKeep your eye out for extended URL’s that don’t look like they would have been typed in manually. People don’t type out long, complex links into browsers, therefore these are a strong sign of dark social referrals. Also, monitor and check for spikes in direct traffic and compare it to your recent content marketing activities. For example if a page on your website that you shared in a social media post recently is receiving increased traffic, the two events are likely to be linked.

5. Trial Social Analysis ToolsUse paid for social analysis and monitoring tools like Simply Measured, which supports dark social channels, to get insight into how much your users prefer private sharing to get a good overview of your audience and their activities.

6. Reassess your KPI metrics.Move away from light social (easily trackable) vanity metrics such as likes and shares and work to connect social engagement to site traffic, conversion, and revenue.

Dark Social is going to continue to rise because of the inherent nature of the way people like to share things with their close, personal connections. The more digital marketers can harness its power, the faster businesses and brands can build connections and further leverage intent to drive traffic and conversions.

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