Dark Social – We Only See The Tip of The Social Media Iceberg

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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.


Short URLs

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.


Live Streaming and the Demand for Now

blogLive video has been something reserved only for significant occasions in the past, whether it be a big TV event or an important news story. This is all changing now as social media gives the power to the people and makes it easier than ever to broadcast without a TV deal.

So where are we currently? It seems all the giants have joined the party now – YouTube is the latest to jump on board by adding the ability to live stream directly from your phone. It’s important to note here how different YouTube’s audience is to Facebook and Twitter’s – subscribers on YouTube are there predominantly to watch videos, and considering YouTube’s experience within video in general, it will be interesting to see how these two compete most of all.

Tumblr on the other hand seems to have taken a slightly different route by allowing third-party apps to stream live video straight to its service. A very open-minded approach that bears witness to the fact that social is embracing the live streaming movement.


Real-Time Marketing

So what does this movement mean for brands? In an age where we have access to an overloading amount of content, content marketing is taking a new form – “real-time marketing” will now gain a larger footprint than ever before and the fundamental difference is the urgency it demands from viewers. This in itself is extremely valuable, considering the sheer amount of content we’re already drowning in. Viewers are also less critical and less demanding when it comes to live video. The fact that it’s live is the biggest factor and it doesn’t play out the same way when you re-watch a video that was originally live. Therefore, viewers end up chasing the video as soon as they’re notified of the stream, instead of “saving it for later”, which in turn also eliminates the potential for it to be lost in the billions of hours of content it’s directly competing with.


Quality Control

I’d also say the whole removal of picture-perfect images that Snapchat brought to the table has eased us into live streaming our own content – it may not be perfect, but who cares? You can now also broadcast live to Facebook from MSQRD, which is extremely Snapchat-like. So will the fact that absolutely anyone is now able to stream their lives have an effect on the overall quality of this type of content? Compared to the quality control TV has had over the years, it’s almost non-existent on social media. Time will tell if we want to see our friends live stream themselves doing nothing or whether a stream needs more of a purpose.

All things considered, live streaming will soon be a standard form of expression via social, much like it’s become a standard form of communication over the years with Skype and FaceTime. It’s time for brands to take a good look at their strategy and embrace the live streaming age that’s only going to grow from here.