DARK SOCIAL. It sounds kind of menacing, or even downright dangerous, but if you dig a little deeper you'll see that it can actually be a marketer's best friend.
Before we discuss how dark social can benefit you, let's define it. The term "dark social" was initially coined by writer Alexis C. Madrigal in an article for The Atlantic in 2012. The article, entitled "Dark Social: We Have the Whole History of the Web Wrong," explains that dark social refers to any web traffic that comes through outside sources that are untrackable by traditional web analytics. It's any of the content sharing that people do through channels such as email or IM, channels that are difficult (nope, let's be honest — next to impossible) for marketers to track.
Why is this idea so scary for marketers? Aren't they glad that their content is being shared at all? Well, when we don't have a firm grasp on what content is shared, how it's shared, and on what social media platform it's shared, it makes it very difficult for us to determine how and where to spend our marketing budget.
Sharing in the Shadows
While it might seem impressive that a particular social media post might have thousands of shares on various social media platforms, in truth the number is significantly higher — but the shares are occurring through dark social methods. Rather than click "share" directly on the social media site, over 60% of people will instead copy the link and share it through email, text, or an instant messaging platform.
According to a 2014 study by RadiumOne, dark social represents 69% of all content sharing worldwide, with Facebook trailing far behind at 23% and other social media (Twitter, Instagram, etc.) coming in at 8%. In fact, 32% share content exclusively through dark social — these people are completely off your radar! The clickback rate is even more staggering; 76% of clickbacks occurred from dark social, with Facebook following at 16% and other social media at 10%.
What do all of these numbers mean? Well, for one thing, your metrics aren't as accurate as you think they are. You're missing a HUGE portion of your audience, simply because you're not able to track the folks who share through dark social.
Also, dark social can be more effective than some of the more traditional marketing methods; the high clickback rate for content shared through dark social channels can't be denied. Not surprisingly, people are more likely to check out content that comes from a trusted friend or family member than directly from the business who generated that content.
Use the (Dark Social) Force
The good news? Your content IS being shared. Clearly, dark social is something that you want to incorporate in your social media SEO strategy. What can you do to harness the power of dark social to work FOR you in a way that you can potentially track?
- Shortened URLs — Consider using a link-shortening tool that will allow you to track the branded content you share. How will this help? Every time a user copies this specially shortened URL and shares it with someone through dark social channels, you can easily and accurately measure its reach. Bonus — if you standardize the shortened links, your data will be actionable for your targeted advertising initiatives.
- Create Unique and Engaging Content — Of course, this is probably one of your marketing goals already, but it's important to continue to ensure that you write content that's not just informative, but interesting and in line with your target audience's wants and needs.
- Guide Users Back to the Original Source — When the user copies and pastes highlighted information and sends it to a friend through a dark social channel, automatically add a URL link to your site to the end of the content. That way, if the recipient of the content is interested in learning more about the topic, they know precisely where to go to get it. Boom! You've got fresh eyes on your content.
- Make It Easy to Share — Perhaps your users wouldn't resort to dark social if you make it easier for them to share links to your content directly from your site. Be sure that your site's sharing button is big and visible, and that it won't require your users to jump through needless hoops to share your content with their friends and family. Allow them to share through typical dark social channels such as email or apps like WhatsApp, and you can track this traffic even if they cut and paste the link.
As we said before, dark social might sound scary, but it's just another method that marketers must consider as they create their content. You can adopt the methods we mentioned above, hoping for the best, but you've also got to look at your analytics with a more cynical eye. Continue generating shareable content, and hope that it's considered worth cutting and pasting!