Is dark social leaving you in the dark?

We live in a world of tracking. Reach, engagement, overall performance. As marketers we want to measure the success of our social campaigns to inform us for future posts. But it’s now thought that up to 87% of content shares are made through dark social – making it more difficult for us to monitor.

Despite sounding like an annual ball at Hogwarts, dark social isn’t as ominous as it seems.

So, what is dark social?

It’s the content that’s shared in private – think Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, email etc. Dark social keeps us on our toes. People are copying and pasting content links into their own private chats, and when people click directly through the shared link, or even open it in private browsing tabs, it all appears as direct traffic on your analytics platform. This leads to traffic without attribution, which causes problems for us when planning our next campaign.

How can dark social effect you?

Identifying our best performing channels helps us refine our social strategy. Attribution also tells us which channels aren’t performing as effectively so we can switch up our approach, or limit spending waste. As much as any traffic is great, we need to know where it comes from so we can plan our ongoing strategy and future campaigns.

The Drum (2017) claim that up to 87% of content shares are now done through dark social. That’s a lot of unattributed traffic. For brands this means a huge segment of customer data is missing, so it’s hard to know which channels and whose efforts are responsible for traffic. We need to know where our customers are, so we can make it as easy as possible to reach them. Attribution is key for optimising future posts. So, is there any way of tracking dark social?

Can we measure dark social? 

In short, no. We can’t track all dark social. But we can definitely shed some light (yep) on how much dark social traffic you’re getting.

One way to get a clearer picture of your dark social traffic is using UTM tracking on all links. Given that users are sharing the full link, this lets you track the source, medium and campaign of every visitor to your site. It will help you identify which posts are driving the most traffic. But UTM tracking does present problems too.

If a link that is shared via email is then posted on Facebook, users who click through that secondary link will appear as email referrals in your analytics data, when they were actually directed through a social channel. This is still helpful data though, as you know that the original engagement and share came from your email link.

Your other option is to create a direct traffic segment in Google Analytics. To do this, you need to create a new segment that only includes direct traffic, and then exclude any pages that are simple or memorable (/blog etc.). The pages you’re left with are likely to be a result of dark social – although this isn’t completely reliable as smartphone browsers may start a new session when users re-open them and be included as direct traffic when they could have previously come from any channel.

While neither of these methods are completely reliable, they’ll certainly offer insights into how much of your traffic is through dark social sources. And with more attributed traffic you can start informing your campaigns with focussed social targeting.

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