A recent report from Radium One shed some light on the concept of “Dark Social”. A dominant but seldom discussed force in online sharing.
Among other things the research showed that 32 % of people who share content online would only share via Dark Social. It represents up to three times the social sharing activity of Facebook alone.
What is Dark Social?
The term Dark Social was first coined back in 2012 by Alexis C. Madrigal, tech editor at Atlantic.com, to refer to web traffic that comes from outside sources that web analytics can’t track.
Dark Social happens when someone shares content or a link by copying and pasting into communications such as emails, instant messages and forum posts.
The infographic below from Forbes shows that Dark Social accounts for an impressive 69 % of global shares, compared to Facebook’s 23 %.
Dark Social takes place in a much more intimate environment, where the sender controls the number of receivers. It is often directed to friends, family and colleagues with the aim to entertain or inspire, help solve a problem or make a decision. The data generated from Dark Social is one of the more valuable sources of social insights because it has not been “filtered” for public reading and approval but is written with a genuine purpose.
Dark social links do not contain referrer data that is used to identify an address of a webpage. Common examples of Dark Social include links copied and pasted into emails or instant messages or shared via text messages – methods that do not automatically attach any tracking tags.
The challenge with this lack of tags is that most of the “direct” traffic a company or brand generates is not really direct – people do not type specific URLs to land on a subpage or a subsite. When studying a website’s analytics for traffic optimisation, you can’t really use the information about all the “direct” traffic to anything. There are no algorithms to understand Dark Social, and thus brands should aim to eliminate it as much as possible. Of course, you want all your content to be shared as mush as possible but the objective is to keep everything in the light.
One way to decrease Dark Social is to use short URL tools to take advantage of the data hidden within. With the right link shortener, advertisers and publishers can turn long links into short and measurable links (or short URLs). Additionally they can use this to ensure that data is generated, and use this data to improve their content activities and ability to generate traffic from different channels.
“Share” – Buttons
Another possibility is to make everything on a website as easy to share as possible so visitors don’t choose to copy the link from the browser and thus create even more Dark Social activity. Nowadays, sites still often have no “share” options or tools on their pages or the mentality is “go for the like button”. Little or no attention is paid to how people will share content and this could be a big yet easy step towards eliminating Dark Social.