“Dark social” isn’t as malicious as it sounds. The term was coined by Alexis Madrigal in an article for The Atlantic in 2012 to describe the sharing of information in emails and instant messengers – sharing that existed long before social media platforms were popular. Social media ROI is getting easier to measure, but dark social is more difficult. And it accounts for a huge portion of the referrals your website is probably getting.
When looking through your Google Analytics, you probably notice a large chunk of the referrals are listed in the “direct traffic” category. These hits can come from a variety of behind-the-scenes sources; a link shared through text, email, native mobile apps (like Facebook’s), messengers, Slack messages, Snapchat, and someone using a secure HTTPS browser all fall in this bucket. It’s word of mouth on the internet, but not the kind you can track easily through Facebook Insights.
The Struggle for Social Media Strategists
While it’s great to have so many avenues for your content to be shared, dark social adds to the struggle for social media teams in proving the value of what they do. If you can’t specifically show that these direct traffic hits are from people copying and sharing a link you put on Facebook, it’s tough to show true ROI. Social media marketers are under a lot of pressure to show concrete metrics, which is sometimes next to impossible. There’s no real way to say “yes, all of these direct traffic hits were from text messages sent in this market.”
Dark social can also make optimizing content tough. Without knowing how the content is being shared specifically, marketers can’t design it for those platforms. These shares are likely hitting demographics that may not be on other social channels, like the 55 and older age group. When you can’t pin down the audience and the channel, it’s difficult to be strategic.
Shining the Light on Dark Social
So, what can PR pros and marketers do about dark social? Here’s a few things to focus on to get a better handle on this type of sharing:
- Use Google Analytics’ customer URL builder. This can help with proving that your social sharing is driving dark social communication, and which posts are bringing in the most referrals. No matter where the link is clicked from, you’ll be able to see that it was that specific link you created for your latest Facebook post that brought visitors to the website.
- Invest in a tool made for dark social tracking, like st by Radium One.
- Make shareable content a priority. Even when it’s hard to track, dark social is still sharing of your content. Make sure your social posts are shareable – find the emotional connection, keep text short, and include visuals whenever possible. You might not be able to optimize it for a Snapchat message, but you can still focus on creating content that resonates with your audience, no matter where they are.