Shedding Some Light on the Concept of Dark Social

In recent weeks, the buzz around the concept of “dark social” has been steadily growing. Whether from a love of new trends, social media, or melodramatic sounding buzzwords, many marketers are becoming more and more intrigued by this new concept. We’ve put together a brief post with everything you need to know about the latest marketing buzzword.

What is it?

The term “dark social” started to gain traction with an article in the Atlantic by writer Alexis Madrigal. The term refers to social sharing that is impossible to track, or is “dark.”

Dark social is sharing that takes place over email, SMS, or instant message. Because visitors are being forwarded the exact URL for the page they are visiting, these shares appear to be the same as direct traffic. According to Madrigal, this traffic may represent a portion of traffic that rivals all other social sharing combined.

How does this affect marketers?

Marketers will obviously have to reevaluate the way they are perceiving their direct traffic by identifying and segregating dark social traffic in their analytics platform. While direct traffic to your home page or blog is likely to be genuine direct traffic, direct traffic to specific pages with lengthy URLs is likely the result of dark social sharing and can be separated from your legitimate direct traffic.
It is also important to ensure that you are making your content easy to share through dark channels. Including a “Share via Email” option whenever you make sharing options available can help increase dark social shares, ultimately increasing your exposure. It is also important to recognize the power of including email in your content marketing strategy.

What do we know about dark social traffic?

For those looking to gain more than just a rudimentary understanding of your dark social traffic, Buzzfeed published a data-filled follow up to Madrigal’s original article that breaks down the different aspects of social sharing. The article speculates on the demographics of those sharing most via email and instant messaging, what they tend to share, and the reach of dark social shares.

Overall, the concept of dark social should not dramatically impact the strategy of the average marketer. This traffic has existed for your content all along and will continue to be a great resource for the dissemination of content.

The most important takeaway from Madrigal’s original article may be that there is no way to game dark social. As Madrigal puts it, “This is pure social, uncut.” The only way to get more dark social shares is by producing content that your audience is excited to share. This is an exciting prospect in a marketing environment that is constantly looking to optimize and find shortcuts, often at the expense of quality.

What do you think about the concept of dark social? Is the term being overhyped? We would love to hear your thoughts!

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3 thoughts on “Shedding Some Light on the Concept of Dark Social

  • I know it’s an old post, but direct traffic is definitely on the up as of late, sometimes significantly. Dark social is an interesting problem to solve and can lead to some innovative solutions – like an ‘SMS to’ button for mobile users. I know it seems inconvenient, but a lot of mobile users still don’t use push notifications on their social networking apps – so instant sharing can still happen.

    With dark search thrown into the mix, there’s more and more reason to question the data we’re getting – especially as a lot of these supposedly ‘direct’ visits are coming from organic searches within browsers that don’t pass on the data. It will be interesting to see how this pans out. Whichever platform becomes dominant within the next few years may dictate the reliability of data.

    • Thanks for the comment Ali. I totally agree with you that we’ll start to see a lot of interesting solutions like ‘SMS to’ start to pop up to “shed some light” if you will on the data. I think you’re right again in that platform will play a significant role in the data insight marketers have moving forward. I’m excited to see the ways marketers start to innovate around these challenges!

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