What is Dark Social Media?

By Jolie Kesler March 01, 2017

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Many marketers, business owners, and social media management companies spend extensive amounts of time analyzing data. They gather reports, analyze them, and determine the ROI for their current marketing strategies. They do this (as they should) so that they can see what’s working, what’s driving people to their website, who is coming to their website, what they’re doing there, and so on. However, there’s a growing number of site visits that are coming from seemingly nowhere. If you’re not accounting for this mysterious traffic, you’ve got a giant blindspot.

You may or may not have heard the term “dark social”, but do you know what it means? And more importantly - what it means for you? No, it’s not an underground system of  tweets and Facebook posts written by wizards and gang bangers. Dark social, simply put, refers to the phenomenon of invisible sharing across the web.

What it is:

Dark social is data shared through url copying and pasting that you have zero visibility of. For example, a visitor on your website likes the video that you just posted online. Rather than use one of the social share buttons that you so helpfully included, the visitor copies the url code at the top of the browser, and pastes it into an email to dear old grandma so that she can enjoy the video as well. When dear old grandma opens the email and follows the link, the only information you have as the website owner is that your page got another hit. What you don’t know is who it is, how they found the link, or where they came from, and Google Analytics won’t help you - any analytics tool you’re using will incorrectly consider the visit to be direct traffic. So, despite your best efforts to analyze the data of your website, what you’re stuck with is continually rising numbers of traffic that are deceptively stuffed under the wide umbrella of “direct traffic”.

 



Why it’s a problem:

Not everyone wants everything they share to be visible to all their social media followers. So, dark social is here to stay. People will always need a private way to share something, and you simply can't afford to turn a blind eye to it. If you've attributed the origin of your website traffic to the wrong source, you're missing out on valuable insights, and throwing off your entire marketing strategy. You stand to risk significant consequences by ignoring this. 

What you can do about it:

Fortunately, since the discovery of dark social (the term originally coined by Alexis Madrigal), improvements have been made in the tracking and analysis department.

 

  • Pay attention and monitor the trends: With each new problem that arises in this digital era, a new solution is created by a brilliant entrepreneur ready to make money off of solving our issues (and thank goodness for that). Right now, we have a few options for tracking dark social sharing. They aren't perfect, but if used correctly, they can be incredibly helpful in getting around the dark social phenomenon. Sharethis, for instance, works by adding social share buttons to your website. What makes them special, however, is the ability to measure the copy and shares of your websites urls. While you can't track who received the share and went to your website because of it, you can track who did the initial sharing. 
  • Change the way you use Google analytics: You'll need to create a separate advanced segment specifically for dark social. In this segment, you should exclude the analytics from tracking anyone who went to your home page first upon reaching your website, and include anyone who would be considered "direct". In this segment, you'll have a better idea of how many people are reaching your pages through dark sharing (unless they're physically typing in the exact url code, like http://blackboard.anchormd.com/what-are-smart-marketing-goals, which is pretty unlikely). 
  • Develop dark social buyer personas: Buyer personas, or ideal customers, are a very important aspect of business and marketing plans. In addition to your traditional buyer personas, it might be a good idea to develop one or two around your dark social audience. This persona will start out as a blank slate, but the more you track your dark social data, the more you'll know about your persona.

 

Social media is constantly changing. These days, staying relevant in the business world means staying on top of the social media trends! If you're looking for a social media management company, or even just some advice, Anchor is just a phone call, email, or pigeon carrier away.