I was reading an article and came across this term- ‘dark social’. After reading, researching and digging out the meaning of what it is and how harmful this can be, I have decided to share this with you all, make you aware of the terms and its medium through which it is carried.

The term “dark social” was used by a former deputy editor of The Atlantic, Alexis C. Madrigal in his article ‘Dark Social: We Have the Whole History of the Web Wrong’ which was published on October 12, 2012. He explained what dark social is and stated: “The sharing you see on sites like Facebook and Twitter is the tip of the ‘social’ iceberg. We are impressed by its scale because it’s easy to measure. But most sharing is done via dark social means like email and IM that are difficult to measure.”

Dark Social includes a large part of sharing activity and not most people are aware about it. It refers to social sharing of content on private channels like WhatsApp, Facebook, SMS, email, and other social apps or when moving from a secure (https) to non-secure site (http), which can’t be tracked or picked up by web analytics platforms. Because there is no referrer data and analytics tools are unable to track its origin, it is also widely known as ‘direct’ traffic.’

For e.g. you must have noticed any shady book stall at the corner of the street or outside the metro station. Well mostly those are the pirated version (duplicate) of the original copies. Likewise, when it comes to dark social the same thing is occurring, i.e. it is counted in the direct link without anyone knowing its real source.

The similarity between a pirated book and dark social is that the reader’s enjoy content, but the distribution source is unknown to the author or marketer in case of digital world.

You like an article and send it to others by copying and sharing the link through any messaging app. People go to this link and they again share it via same process. Sharing links in this way lack referral tags, but still this visit is shown as direct traffic which is wrong because it’s not a direct traffic, unless someone types the whole address like “https://knownstrategies.com/how-social-media-is-making-over-the-fashion-industry/”.

Dark Social is an obstacle in the marketer’s path to understand the traffic reach on the web. It’s not like you can’t do anything about it, not fully but some steps can be taken. To understand the site’s performance and get the analytics result, it is important to know where the traffic is coming from, thus some measures and precautions can help you to figure out a way or two.

You know about the URLs right. So, the first thing you can do is to observe the direct traffic in your website analytics. You will notice that some or most of the URLs are long links like “https://knownstrategies.com/top-digital-marketing-trends-of-2019/”, which users hardly type. This link can be a high probability of direct traffic from dark social. In this case it is better to create a segment in the analytics that includes all direct links with parameters. Next step is to exclude pages that could be typed which includes your homepage and other pages.

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If you are using google analytics, then you can filter the links by ‘’Returning Users” option. This is used because there are pages where users likely return through direct means, i.e. by retyping in the address bar, navigating through search history, etc. This enables to somehow get a picture of how much traffic is obtained from dark social.

Next in line is the link shortened or shortened URLs. Link shortens are the saviors in dark social times, as it helps to get a better understanding of the clicks that your links receive when tracked links are used. Shortened links helps to get a deeper analysis of the engagement rate.

Some link shortens like ow.ly helps to track real time clicks, upload images, and perform many other benefits. Bitly is another tool used for link shortening and tracking. If Urchin Tracking Module parameters (aka UTM tags or UTM tracking codes) is added to the URL, an additional detail will be provided as it allows to measure and optimize things done along the way and if done correctly then steps for online marketing efforts can be quantified.

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Share button is a win win situation for both- you and the customer. It creates a smooth and hassle-free process for the customers to share the link via social, email, or message buttons. Also, the buttons can be used to add the tracking codes to the link. All the sharing engagement is tracked from the social sharing buttons. Because it is a click and share method, thus it is an easy method to avoid dark sharing and eliminate the use of URL copy and paste. Unique URLs and codes are used for various types of share buttons, which traces the traffic back to each button.

If we take an example, there are many sites which have social buttons like Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, etc., along with SMS, RSS and E-mail buttons. So, whenever the reader wants to share anything, be it the whole blog or few lines, then they can simply click the button, complete the given steps and share it. This is much easier than copying the whole URL, changing the tab and then sending to others.

Obviously, the given measures won’t work hundred percent and it is difficult to track dark social, but if given a shot then a lot of difference can be seen. It won’t help you fully, but it will surely give you an idea where the traffic is coming from. If done careful analysis, then dark social can be approached properly and can be used for site enhancement. One can take a guess that people are liking the content because of an increased dark social traffic. For this all you need is to dig deeper and know exactly what is required.

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