Shining A Light On Dark Social

February 26, 2017

Shining A Light On Dark Social

By The Defectors

Dark Social sounds like an evil force partying in the shadowy corners of the internet but actually it’s a totally innocuous, personal and useful way to send social media messages and we all do it every day. So what is Dark Social?

Unlike its other actually evil and evil named counterparts: Dark Web, Dark Nets and Deep Web, Dark Social is simply the sending of any social media message that cannot be tracked by analytics. The most common channels for Dark Social are email, WhatsApp, sms and Facebook Messenger: totally benign channels used by most of us, a lot.

Radium One, a large scale on-line advertising platform working across all digital touch points, believes 70 per cent of all social media behaviour is carried out through Dark Social and is currently pretty hard to track unequivocally.*

Its survey, globally conducted across 9000 people by TPoll Marketing and Radium One, found that in every region and in nearly every content category, more sharing happens in Dark Social than all other sharing channels combined. Worldwide, Dark Social sharing is three times the size of Facebook sharing.

That’s a whole load of dark sharing going on and those figures are most likely reflective of the situation. Think about it. You love a new restaurant and you think your foodie friend will love it too so you text her or email her the link. You don’t bombard all your Facebook followers all over the world about a restaurant in downtown Sydney.
Or, you see a service that might help a family member with a personal issue, help them make a decision or solve a problem so you need to inform them but at the same time keep it under the radar. So no broadcasting there also, an email will do the trick.
Dark Social is especially important to the beauty, health and fitness industries as promotion of some products can border on also exposing some personal ailments or “weak” spots.

The study also found that one third of us only refer via Dark Social.


First thing, is to make sure the specific URLs you are using have some tracking capabilities. The best way to do this is to include a UTM tracking code in your generated URL. The UTM tracking will be able to record where the traffic is coming from i.e. a social platform or a newsletter, the medium i.e. an email and the campaign name. Correctly inputting these elements into a URL generator will help you later on find out where your links ended up.

Your URLs should be short and branded. One of the easiest ways to get them is to use a Bitlink. Bitly also keeps track of your URLs. Bitly’s own analytics platform can give you some visibility on the popularity of the URL by total click and geographic location. It can also compare your top performing links in real time. You can enter in a UTM coded link into Bitly to generate a much prettier, shorter and importantly trackable URL also.


Another way you can deduce that traffic originated from Dark Social is by looking at the links your direct traffic analytics are showing. Extra-long intricate URLs that you can safely guess were not manually typed but were most probably copy-pasted are most likely generated from Dark Social. Ironically, here is where the joy of Dark Social lies – it’s very often a one-to-one recommendation and the conversion rate is exceptionally high. How often have you converted when a friend has directly sent you a link? If you’ve not converted, you now have brand awareness and recognition. You might have brand recall and consideration and all from a strong, personal, trusted source.

Dark Social is familiar and frequent. Its narrowcast nature can be more powerful to brands than other public platforms. Depending on the industry category, its message can carry more weight than a Facebook or Instagram post.


With such high conversion rates and 70 per cent of us sharing through Dark Social you’d be crazy not to make it even easier for your customers to do it more. Sure it’s fiddly to track now but if it means solid referrals to sales or conversions, get on board! Add easily visible sharing widgets to campaigns and of course embed the UTM enhanced links and encourage your customers to share via these channels.


In this case, don’t get too hung up on all the social media metrics such as likes and reach. While they are important, they are part of the analytics road-map to help you devise a useful, adaptable online marketing strategy.

For Dark Social you are mostly tracking optimised links so focus on analysing whole channels.

You may find that your customers are active on mobile, so build an SMS marketing campaign into your strategy or develop more frequent newsletters if they are responding well on email.

Don’t be afraid of Dark Social, track as much as you can, ask questions, keep learning and understanding your customers.

*RadiumOne October 2014

Need more Social Media tips?

Contact Joel Maloney at The Defectors

02 9993 0450

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