Give Dark Social Some Light

Make Social Bright Again

Have you ever found the perfect BuzzFeed quiz, Which Bachelor Contestant Would You Most Likely End Up With? but decided that not all your Facebook friends needed to know your results, so you messaged the quiz to your co-worker through G-chat?

If that is something you have done, then you have participated in dark social. Dark social is a private conversation, a lot of times happening through email, text and social apps and involves sharing a link to a piece of content from a social channel through one of these platforms. What makes it dark is that the referral can’t be tracked. It looks like people are heading straight to your website and reading content there but that may not be the case, they are getting there in a way most analytics platforms can’t track. 

Dark social is important because these private conversations are happening more and more and are something marketers need to account for. There has been a shift in users preference for these more private forms of social media communication, especially for younger generations- which may explain why platforms like Snapchat and WhatsApp have grown so rapidly. So understanding exactly what is dark social and how to measure it is important as this type of sharing will only continue to grow.

Dark Posts Vs. Dark Social

Did you know there is a difference between dark posts and dark social?

As a marketer, you are probably creating a lot of dark posts. A dark or unpublished post is a post that looks like it could be from a brand’s main Facebook page ( a status update) that is showing up in someone’s newsfeed but it is actually an ad with a CTA like “Download Now” or “Learn More.” These are posts your brand pays to appear in your targeted audience’s Facebook newsfeed and probably something you have seen a lot. These posts are not supposed to look or feel too much like ads, but that is exactly what they are.

Dark social has nothing to do with ads. This is private sharing, sharing that is good but sharing that cannot be traced with traditional marketing analytics platforms because the sharing is taking place through SMS, email or some type of messaging app like GroupMe.  

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How Does It Affect Marketers?

Whether it’s dark social or not this type of sharing could still be sending thousands of people to your website every day. While this is good, the bad part is that you can’t track where it is coming. When you look at marketing analytics for these posts, you are going to notice that your traffic shows up as “direct” traffic which isn’t true. You know the odds of someone typing your web page perfectly is slim to none especially when it includes a title. Since you still technically get credit for the visits it is not the worst thing to happen, but you can’t get credit for:

  • Targeting a Facebook ad to the right audience that results in high share metrics
  • Shares that can be counted towards your social engagement numbers
  • Creating a post on social that connects to your audience so well, they click away
  • Being able to use these numbers if a certain “amount” of social share volume is part of your quarterly goals

Marketers want (and need) to know how people are sharing and why so they can replicate that process and continue to grow traffic that way. Dark social makes it hard to track that journey and to understand how their audience is finding their content and what specifically are they connecting with on each social channel. These dark social interactions are happening a lot which means you are missing out on optimizing your content and have a lot of unanswered questions. 

How To Measure It?

As you can see above, you need to be able to measure dark social not only because you need the credit for all your hard work but to understand your consumer’s journey. How your potential customers find and digest content can teach you a lot, and that is something dark social analytics can show you.

The good news is there is a tool you are already using that can make dark social easier to measure, Google Analytics. You can set up segments within your Audience Overview Sessions that will filter out traffic you don’t want to measure with dark social and track the traffic coming from areas that are considered dark.

The most important part when creating your segment is what you’re going to exclude and include. When tracking dark social, you are going to want to exclude homepage direct traffic and include direct traffic sources. By doing this, you can get some basic information about the landing pages your traffic is now coming from and this can all be done within the Conditions area when creating a New Segment in Google Analytics. 

The condition you filter:

Exclude sessions: “Landing Page” and  “exactly matches”

Include sessions: “Source” and “contains” and then type in (direct)

Once you have that saved, you have your Google Analytics set up to track dark social traffic. Although this won’t give you all the answers, it will give you some insight into where the traffic is coming from.

Wrap It Up

Now you don’t have to be afraid of missing viral content opportunities and can discover who and where people are sharing through dark social. It’s all about having the proper tools in place because that is what helps eliminate some of the mystery in how people are heading to your website and why.

Just make sure you continue to watch social platforms, which ones rise to the top and which ones fail. This will give you insight into the type of sharing your audience likes to do. As we continue to see increased usage in these more private messaging apps right now just remember things are always changing with social, but one thing that won’t is that content that is relevant, informative and targeted to the right audience is always going to be shareable. 

Want more information about Dark Social? Check this post out Shining The Light On Dark Social.

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