What Your Business Needs To Know About Dark Social

What Is Dark Social?

Dark Social is any web content that is shared digitally but can’t be tracked by web analytics. Instead of sharing about your product or service publicly with friends and family, the majority of Internet users are now choosing to share privately through email or messaging apps.

...visible sharing via Facebook and all other public sharing channels combined accounts for only 31 percent, while dark—or invisible—sharing accounts for 69 percent of all sharing worldwide.
— American Express OPEN Forum

As social media marketers, we like to prove ROI and value for our clients. We work with the resources available to us (like tracking links) to show that our content can drive people to the website and convert. Google or Adobe Analytics Reports show how traffic arrives at your website and categorizes it: search, social, referral, or direct traffic. But, now that we have more data than ever before, it comes with the realization that we still don’t get the whole story. A buyer’s online journey is neither as transparent nor as linear as we expected it to be in 2016.

How Does Dark Social Hurt Marketers?

Businesses spend a lot of time and resources on branding to make sure that their website has a cohesive feel and that content is optimized for mobile users and social sharing buttons are readily available. The bottom line for all of these actions is to drive sales. If social traffic doesn’t meet goals for increased website traffic, any reasonable Marketing Manager may think social marketing does not warrant the effort. The problem we face with Dark Social is that our carefully crafted social content can be falsely attributed to website Direct Traffic. Here are three common examples of how that happens:

1. Text: I researched a fun activity for when my friend visits next weekend. I saw Pink Jeep Tours of Sedona Arizona and I texted the website link to her. When my friend clicks on it, that website will think she is “Direct Traffic” because links inside text messages do not pass through referrer information that TripAdvisor normally adds on to the end of the url.

2. Email: It’s summer and my extended family is currently obsessed with which pool toys we should have this year. Links to inflatable donuts, pizza slices, alligators and winged horses are sprinkled through the email thread. We found these pool toys on Pinterest, but it won’t matter. Most email providers do not pass along referrer information and all clicks on those urls from within the email will be attributed to Direct Traffic.

3. Mobile & Messaging Apps: If you arrived at this blog post through the link in our Instagram profile, you may have noticed Instagram opened a new browser window and the blog post appeared. Your click will be attributed to direct traffic even though you did not type in: http://thinpigmedia.com/blog/what-your-business-needs-to-know-about-dark-social. The same is true for other native mobile and messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat, Viber, Yahoo Messenger, and Playstation Messages. Any clicks on a link that you share will be attributed to Direct Traffic. 

Facebook reports over 900 million people use Messenger alone. This all adds up to a substantial percentage of website traffic that will end up categorized as Unspecified or Direct Traffic.

There's No Solution, Really

We don’t have 100% visibility -- and with incognito web browsing and browser extensions that can auto-remove tracking (including UTM code) from links, we never will get full visibility. So, what’s a social media marketer to do? As my grandfather used to say “It doesn’t matter if it’s good press or bad, as long as they spell your name right.” Dark social is exposure, and exposure is good for the bottom line.

Social website traffic is just one avenue for customers to find you. Make sure your overall marketing plan includes Paid and Search as well. Thin Pig Media offers solutions for better Paid, Social and Search results.