What is Dark Social?

by PMA

What is Dark Social
Dark Social; it sounds like the title of a Stephen King thriller. You imagine walking through a gloomy alleyway, past a tense reunion of two ex-lovers. A police siren echoes in the distance, and your heartbeat quickens at the feeling that someone is following you.

Unfortunately for the suspense-junkies out there, this scenario is not dark social. On the plus side, however, I’ve just given you a fantastic idea for the start of your new novel. You can send me the cheque for my half of the royalties later.

In the simplest way possible, dark social is “the social sharing that occurs in private digital communication tools such as email and instant messaging”. This happens when someone copies and pastes a link into instant messages, emails, forums or local hub sites. Those cat videos you just sent to your best friend on WhatsApp? That’s dark social.

Suddenly, not so scary.

Dark Social: Why does it matter?

Likes, tweets, reblogs – social sharing is the lifeblood to any online marketing campaign. The problem is that you can only see what’s in the ‘light’; namely, how people engage publicly on their page, friends’ pages or your pages. Seeing how many public likes you get is a fine way of determining the success of a marketing campaign, until you realise that 69% of global online content sharing actually occurs in the dark.

Dark social, however, is very difficult to measure. When you post an ad and link on public Facebook, you can see if an individual clicks that link to get to your website. Sweet, you say. 10 people were directed to my website from Facebook.

Now, going from a secure site (like Facebook Messenger) to an open site, however, looks to analytic software like traffic has literally appeared out of thin air. You don’t know what directed these people to your website. If it wasn’t a Google search, or public link on Facebook, Tumblr or Twitter – where did they come from?

If you are using standard web analytics, you are missing out on key insights about how people are actually discovering your content and products; especially if it’s something that makes sense to share 1:1 rather than 1: Many.

Take shoes for example. You find a pair online that you love, but they are a bit pricey. Do you send a private message to your fashion-savvy friend, asking for their opinion, or do you upload a post to Facebook asking all of your 567 contacts for their 2 cents? You choose the private message option. Every time. (Sorry Aunty Meryl and the 4-jobs-ago co-worker, I don’t need your advice on footwear)

To understand the total impact of your online marketing campaign, you need to know what’s going on in the dark, not just the light.

Dark Social

Dark Social: How to Measure

To understand how to measure dark social, we first need to address what direct traffic is. Direct traffic is traffic that arrives at your site without a referrer. No click-through from a Google search, or ad on Facebook. It’s when a URL is typed straight into the web browser without a middleman. Traffic arriving from dark social often appears as direct traffic.

Web-Analytics firm Chartbeat came up with a system to classify between the two.
• If people are first visiting the homepage (pmamarketing.com) it is likely that they are direct traffic
• If people are bypassing the main pages, and going straight to another area of the website, it is likely they were following some sort of link. After all, who has the time to type “http://pmamarketing.com.au/services/social-media-marketing/”

Dark Social: Using Google Analytics

If you are currently utilising Google Analytics, and want to know the amount of traffic arriving via dark social, you are in luck.

1. Log into Google Analytics and click on the Advanced Segment button
2. Create a new segment called ‘Dark Social’ that excludes the landing page

This Advanced Segment will track all the visitors who arrived at your website without ever visiting the home page.

Dark Social: End Notes

Admittedly, dark social is a tricky concept to wrap your head around; a shadow that you can’t quite catch. But I bet that in the next 12 months you’ll be hearing a lot more about it. In fact, I’d stake my royalties from your thriller novel on it.