2 reasons to embrace Dark Social

Without a transparent view of traffic sources, marketers can’t see the full picture of how their efforts are paying off or see the opportunities that specific channels offer. The dark social phenomenon is unavoidable and is expected to keep growing. We might as well just embrace it! 

Dark Social is a phenomenon that is having marketers freak out these days. What is dark social anyways?

Dark Social Drives Online Referral Traffic

The term dark social was originally discussed by Alexis Madrigal back in 2012. He defined it as direct links that are shared through email, messaging apps, text messaging or other private means and that web analytics tools are not able to track accurately.

Every day, millions of people copy links from their browsers and share them privately. They send a lot of traffic to publishers, which is a great thing. The issue is that the majority of these links do not include referral tags and therefore are reported as “direct” traffic in web analytics tools when they should actually show a referrer (email, messaging app, chat etc.). 

At least 70% of social shares is dark

A large portion of your traffic is actually coming from dark social. According to RadiumOne, in 2014, about 70% of social shares were dark. This percentage varies depending on regions. The rise of messaging apps, over the past years, likely made it even worse.

One-to-one communication amplifies dark social

We entered an era where one-to-one messaging has become more important than the regular one-to-many (social media) way to communicate. According to Business Insider, Messaging apps usage has surpassed social networks’ thanks to the growth of apps like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger.

Business Insider statistics about how messaging apps surpassed social networks

Why should marketers care?

Without a transparent view of traffic sources, marketers can’t see the full picture of how their efforts are paying off or see the opportunities that specific channels offer. Dark social is mainly an attribution issue.

How to estimate dark social?

The most viable way to estimate traffic from dark social would be to analyse your direct traffic in your favorite web analytics tools. It is fair to say that any long link that is lumped in your direct traffic is from dark social. Nobody would bother typing in the following link manually:


There is a good chance that it was shared privately.

Embrace dark social

Focus on conversions, not the clicks

Dark social is mainly an attribution issue. It does not question the volume of traffic you are getting. The traffic you get however is real, it’s just difficult to track. Also, don’t forget that those clicks are more valuable because the people who visit your website as a result of dark social are more likely to convert first because your link was recommended by someone they trust. These links are even more valuable when they are result of self-sharing (people sending themselves links to check out later). 

With that in mind, a good tactic would be to focus conversions rather than clicks. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters.

Dark social might be good for you customer retention

I read a very interesting article about the implications of private messaging on customer retention. A analysis of sentiment and private conversations on Twitter and Facebook shows that there might be a correlation between the two: the higher the volume of private conversations, the lower the negative sentiment.

These findings show that Social customer care – especially through DM – represents a great opportunities for brands. As a customer I can tell you that social customer care is my new thing. I have been in Cameroon for 2 months now and have experienced many issues with my mac and iPhone. In canada, I would simply call Apple Support but they don’t have a toll free number for my location. So my best real time support option has been Twitter. My experience has been great so far. I really felt that Apple was doing their best to help me out. They provided me with FAQs (shortened links they can track) to help me troubleshot the issues, which was very helpful.

The rise of social customer care, it is expected to see dark social increase even more. So you better buckle up!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.