Harness the Power of Dark Social With These Key Strategies

If your business isn’t taking dark social into consideration, you’re not getting a clear picture of your web traffic. Here’s what you need to know to keep your marketing strategy on track.

Harness the Power of Dark Social With These Key Strategies

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The first time you hear the term “dark social”, it’s understandably hard to keep the diabolical images out of your head. 

You instantly assume it has something to do with the dark web and you might picture a sinister place to be avoided at all costs. 

In reality, dark social is much less threatening than its evil counterpart the dark web, but it’s still a term every business owner should know.

Even if you’re brand new to the term, dark social is already affecting the accuracy of the data you use to finetune your digital marketing strategies. 

For that reason, you can’t afford not to understand its impact. Here’s a closer look at what you need to know to stay ahead of the curve.

    What Is Dark Social?

    The term “dark social” describes traffic via any untrackable source.

    This is especially popular in person-to-person sharing interfaces like email, instant messenger services, and chat apps. 

    Such traffic typically doesn’t include any referral data about its source and is often logged as direct traffic by analytics tools even though it isn’t. 

    This makes it unknowable, untrackable, and very hard to work with.

    Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic first coined the term in 2012, but dark social has, of course, been around as long as email, chat, and instant messaging. 

    As the popularity and prevalence of these communications grow, so does the amount of dark social traffic digital marketers have to consider. 

    This can be quite a problem for those who count on knowing the origins of every visit.

    How Much Traffic Is From Dark Social?

    So how big a chunk of your web traffic actually originates from sources that are difficult or impossible to trace? 

    According to emerging data from marketing firm RadiumOne, it’s over 80 percent, in most cases. 

    Additionally, between 20 and 50 percent is estimated to come directly via link sharing over dark social channels like instant messengers, email, and chat interfaces.

    Marketing experts and business owners base their strategies on trackable traffic data only. That means your strategy likely takes into consideration less than half of your overall web traffic. 

    If you don’t know where your visitors are coming from and what exactly interested them in checking out your site, service, or product, it’s much harder to know where to focus moving forward.

    Why Does Dark Social Matter for Your Business?

    Now that you know about dark social, you might be curious whether it really matters all that much. 

    After all, isn’t one kind of traffic more or less as good as another? As long as people show up on your website and purchase your products or services, does it truly matter how they got there?

    The thing is, your digital marketing campaign is only going to be as good as the data you have to work from. 

    So yes, it matters when you’re in the dark on the origins of your web traffic. Here are a few of the most important reasons why:

    You can’t escape dark social

    Dark social is quite literally everywhere, and that’s becoming more the case every day. 

    Yes, people still tweet things they like to their Twitter followers or share them on their Facebook timelines, but people are increasingly turning to private sharing options instead.

    Mobile internet use is on the rise, as well. 

    More people are browsing on the go and sharing things they like with individual people in their social circles on the fly. 

    In fact, well over half of dark social clickbacks come from smartphones and other mobile devices.

    Dark social has ties to unique demographics

    As with various social media platforms and other avenues you may use to reach your target audience, dark social appeals to a unique subset of your consumer base. 

    For instance, nearly half of consumers 55 or older don’t share links on social media timelines at all. They only do it via dark social channels.

    Developing a better understanding of dark social means successfully tapping into demographics like these. 

    This becomes especially important if heavy dark social sharers also represent your ideal customer (or buyer persona) in one or more ways.

    Dark social presents unique marketing opportunities

    Sharing data can reveal a lot about the true interests, goals, and habits of your typical customer or web visitor. 

    This is no less the case for dark social data. 

    Becoming familiar with this information gives your business a unique marketing opportunity to better reach new and potential customers by leveraging what matters most to them.

    And did you know some industries experience much higher rates of dark social sharing than others? 

    That said, if you’re in an industry like travel or food and drink, over 70 percent of your shares probably come in via dark social. 

    What business owner wouldn’t want to reach that many people better?

    Dark social shares are shares people trust

    If you’re like most people, you’re many times more likely to pay attention to and trust a link a family member or close friend sends you. 

    Not only are you more likely to open it in the first place, but you’re more likely to give the page behind the link a serious read. 

    And if you know this is a site or service your friend likes and visits often, you’re many times more likely to subscribe to its content yourself.

    In other words, your dark social audience is highly targeted. 

    These people come to you conversion-ready and organically endorsed by someone who already likes your content, products, or services. 

    You can’t afford not to try to reach these people.

    How to Better Measure and Manage Dark Social Data

    Naturally, the more dark social traffic your website sees, the more important it is to be able to measure it. 

    But at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter whether dark social accounts for 15 percent of your traffic or 75. 

    To fully understand your visitors and customers, you need to know how all of them are finding you. 

    For that reason, measuring dark social is an essential part of any good digital marketing strategy. Here are some tips to get you started:

    1. Embrace shortened URLs

    Shortened URLs come attached to many different benefits. 

    Not only do they look cleaner and less cumbersome on your pages, but the fact that they contain fewer characters makes it easier to share them over short-form channels like Twitter. 

    Some platforms come with URL-shortening technology built-in, but there are a lot of custom options out there, as well.

    Shortened URLs also help you better measure your dark social traffic. 

    Since each shortened link is entirely unique, it’s also trackable. And shortened URLs are just as easy (if not easier) to share via all your customer’s favorite communication methods, including email, text, and chat.

    2. Make social sharing as easy as possible

    Does your website design include social media sharing buttons? 

    When was the last time you gave any real thought to how accessible they are or how well they function? 

    If it’s been a while, consider this the reminder you need to rethink yours. Shares that originate via the buttons contain the referral data you need to track them easily.

    The average web user likes their web experience to be as easy, fast, and seamless as possible. 

    This includes link sharing, so you’ll want to make your share buttons as easy to find and use as possible. 

    Ensure people don’t have to scroll too far to get to them or otherwise hunt around for them. And make sure they’re clearly distinguishable as share buttons and can’t be confused with follow or subscribe buttons.

    3. Explore tools for tracking dark social

    There are many tools out there designed especially to help marketers and business owners better track and analyze their dark social traffic. 

    Noteworthy examples include:

    • AddThis
    • ShareThis
    • GetSocial.io

    Although the logistics will vary from service to service, the basic idea behind these tools is pretty simple and very effective. 

    Most make all those copied and pasted dark social shares trackable by attaching traceable codes or data snippets. 

    Some do something similar via codes installed on your website. 

    Finding the right tool and setting it up may take some trial and error, but it will also provide you with a reliable way to track and analyze dark social moving forward.

    Wrap Up: Understanding Your Data Is the Key to Marketing Success

    Now that you know what dark social is, how it’s likely already affecting your business, and what your options are for understanding it, it’s time to take the first step. 

    Dark social doesn’t have to remain unknown. In fact, if you leverage its power successfully, it can actually help you reach new customers, reinforce relationships with existing customers, and take your entire content marketing strategy to the next level.

    Start by generating compelling, engaging content that people can’t resist sharing with those closest to them. 

    Then support it with tools and strategies that help you track and understand all of your traffic and share data.

    You’ll also want to stay ahead of the curve by learning more about how to stand out from the crowd with a solid data monitoring strategy. 

    Our ebook on Market Intelligence can help you get where you want to be. Grab your virtual copy today!

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