The term “dark social” was coined in an article written in 2012 by former deputy editor of The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal. Dark social is when people share content through private channels such as instant messaging programs, messaging apps, and email.
This private sharing is harder to track than content shared on public platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, so many social media marketers don’t realize how big of a slice dark social has of the social media sharing pie.
Some of the most common dark social traffic channels are:
- Messaging apps—such as WhatsApp, WeChat, and Facebook Messenger
- Email—to protect users’ privacy, referrers aren’t shared
- Secure browsing—If you click from HTTPS to HTTP the referrer won’t be passed on
In other words, dark social describes any web traffic that’s not attributed to a known source, such as a social network or a Google search. Referral traffic is usually identified by certain “tags” attached to the link whenever it’s shared.
Common examples of dark social include links copied and pasted into emails or instant messages, or shared via text message. These methods don’t automatically attach any tracking tags, unless the shared link was copied with the tag included.
Five reasons your company can’t ignore dark social
Dark social is everywhere
For the past year-and-a-half, the majority of responses (clickbacks) to dark social shares have come from mobile devices. Clickbacks on dark social shares coming from mobile devices are up from 53 percent in August 2014 to 62 percent in February 2016. The other 38 percent of clickbacks on dark social shares come from desktops.
Dark social has a huge impact on traffic
According to marketing firm RadiumOne, in the last year-and-a-half, dark social shares as a percent of on-site shares jumped from 69 to 84 percent globally. Compare those numbers to Facebook traffic. RadiumOne’s research in February 2016 found that only 11 percent of site-originated mobile shares and 21 percent of mobile clickbacks happened worldwide via Facebook. In the same month, seven times the number of site-originated mobile shares and more than three times the number of mobile clickbacks happened via dark social.
Dark social is a spectacular marketing opportunity
Dark social data gives a detailed representation of consumers’ real interests. Familiarizing yourself with this information will allow your business to access a targeted audience of connections.
Dark social reaches unique demographics
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.
Dark social sharing is prevalent in many industries
For example, if your business is in personal finance, food and drink, travel, or executive search, more than 70 percent of social sharing is done through dark social.