Heard of Dark Social?
The term is used as a way for marketers to understand website referrals that are more difficult to track. And, traditionally, we could box it off. Because it even sounds scary.
“Oh no, that’s “Dark Social”, you don’t want to go there.”
So you could look at your analytics, lump it all together, call it ‘Direct Referrals’ and say no more about it.
But it’s time to shed some light. Hold our hands. Don’t be scared.
Because this is important.
The name was coined by Alexis C. Madrigal, tech editor at Atlantic.com, in 2012, to refer to web traffic that comes from the outside sources that straightforward web analytics are not able to track. And it happens when someone shares content or a link by copying and pasting it into communications such as emails, instant messages and forum posts.
To break it down even further, Dark Social is the traffic to your website that simply doesn’t appear to have a specific source, because we cannot pin down the referrer data.
Picture the scene…
You’re at work doing some important Buzzfeed browsing. And you stumble across content gold. Something like: ‘Ten Potatoes That Forgot How To Potato’ or ‘Which Possible Illuminati Member Are You?’
The kind of stuff that needs dealing with right away.
And you think, “goddamn those potatoes really do have no idea that they are potatoes, I have people in my life who totally need to see this”. So you copy and paste the URL, and email it on to your most potato-loving friends.
This is Dark Social at work.
And it’s important that we understand it. Because, if you’re sharing with one, or with many, you are still sharing.
And, for once, it’s not all about Facebook.
Snapchat and Whatsapp are the epitome of the chat-based native mobile apps that are built to accommodate Dark Social. Like Slack and even Facebook Messenger they embody the shift towards more switched-on sharing. As people consume more content more quickly they also become more particular about who and how they pass it on.
Because we have realised that not everyone needs to see everything. So we have started to segment and manage our personal data lists into relatively sophisticated groups, depending on the type, source and context of the content we are sharing.
Crucially, just because Dark Social is difficult to track, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t. Especially not when 32% of people who share content online will only share it in this way. And sharing activity through email, instant messaging and forum posts is three times larger than the sharing activity on Facebook, globally. In fact, 69% of all sharing activity takes place via Dark Social globally, versus 23% via Facebook.
Harnessing and acting on Dark Social data presents a tremendous opportunity for advertisers and publishers to significantly improve the return on investment from their social media and digital marketing investments.
Setting up a custom segment in analytics (see below) will give you a good ball park figure of how much Dark Social traffic is coming to your website. Things get interesting when you look at how many of these actually converted, and their conversion rate. Maybe it’s time to add that WhatsApp share button?
Condition 1: User Type > Exactly Matches > New Visitor
Condition 2: Source > Contains > (Direct)
Condition 3: Landing Page > Does not exactly match > /
This segment will track all new visitors who came directly to your website site by clicking a deep link (assuming that they didn’t type a long URL i.e. www.yourdomain.com/food/manchester/booking-form.php) without visiting the home page.
Harnessing Dark Social allows marketers to understand consumer interests and intent and act on their insights in real time. And it is relevant for every industry, particularly if your target customers are 55 or above, 46% of whom only share via Dark Social. So it is certainly worth switching on the flood lights.
See, nothing to be afraid of.