October 19 2016

If your game is active on social media, and you dig into analytics frequently, you must have noticed a giant bucket of direct traffic that you just can’t seem to understand. Your app doesn’t rank so high that it gets so much direct traffic, nor have you got endless press releases backing the hype. Then what is it? And should you really care about it? In this post, we’re going to take a look at what ‘dark social’ is, what it means for marketers and how to make use of it.

What on earth is dark social?

Yes, we had the same question every time we spent even ten minutes on our analytics tool.

Coined by Alexis C. Madrigal, a senior editor at The Atlantic, dark social refers to the social sharing that happens outside the sources that a web analytics tool can track. According to the study by RadiumOne, 36% of dark social sharing happens on mobile devices and about 70% of global online referrals come from dark social.

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A large percentage of internet users share content via dark social only. The reason being either the topic is private and they want public attention on the same, or they simply prefer to keep things within their circles – this behaviour is irrespective of the age bracket they fall under.

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Clearly, dark social sharing is too common a phenomenon for app marketers and businesses to ignore. They need to understand which segment of their audience is indulging in dark social sharing and how they can make the most out of this.

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Where exactly is dark social happening?

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In case you were wondering where dark social sharing takes place, here are some of the most common channels:

Chat apps

A typical smartphone and internet user is certainly making use of a few chat apps to regularly communicate with his friends and family. There is a high chance that he shares your content on the likes of WhatsApp, Facebook messenger, Slack, Google Hangouts or even SMS for that matter.

Email

Most email providers like Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook and others, have a strict user privacy policies. Any click activity via this channel doesn’t pass a referrer code and so you won’t ever be able to know how many of your emails were copy-past-sent from.

Native mobile apps

Mobile apps are now focussing on offering content to users in-app. For instance, Snapchat articles and Facebook Instant Articles, load news natively. So if the user really wants to read the content on a browser, he will have to type it out in search instead of clicking through it. This activity again, doesn’t get tracked.

Private browsing

If your audience is browsing on an incognito mode or using HTTPS, you really won’t be able to get a referrer code. More direct traffic!

Is it bad? Of course, not. The more attention you get, the better it is for your business!
But can you track it or optimize it for even better results?
Yes you can!

How to solve dark social?

Dark social data shouldn’t necessarily have to lie in the corner of your analytics dashboard. You can actually track all the sharing starting today – when planned strategically.

URLs interconnect everything on the internet – whether you see them or not. Be it websites to social channels, or social channels to chat apps, emails to a sales page or one mobile app to another, links form the universal bond here.

And that’s your solution – improving your URL generation!

Making use of UTM parameters and shortened links, you can actually dig deeper into your direct traffic and identify the sources that are working the best for you.

1. Update your social sharing buttons

In simpler words, appending all your UTM parameters to the share buttons on your site is exactly where you want start.

For example, the Facebook share button could be utm_channel=facebook and likewise for other social sharing buttons you have included.

Following this practice makes it easy for you to understand where the link was shared the most and from where this direct traffic was driven to your website.

2. Make use of UTMs where there is no direct click

Here’s the thing – platforms like Snapchat don’t let a user click through to your website or any piece of content. Everything is shared natively and that’s exactly the problem.

In this case, if you’ve only been sharing your website link directly to make it ‘memorable’ for people to visit later, you’ve been adding to your own dark traffic. Be smarter when you share links on such channels too!

For example, here’s how Kind shares a link to their landing page. Notice the URL? Now every time a user types that into their browser, Kind would know that he first discovered it on Snapchat.

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Kind Snapchat campaign example

3. Track every single email

Dark social metrics are all about understanding how your audience is engaging with your content and interacting with their circles. This helps you create a marketing strategy that not just brings in higher results, but also helps you maintain greater engagement rates.

Emails are a common channel of communication between you and your prospects or customers. So make sure each of your email links are updated to trackable URLs. Be it the link to a blog post, case study or a video explaining about your business!

4. Make all app activity trackable

If your business has a mobile app as well, it is important to understand how your users are engaging with the native content and if they find it worthy of being shared in their circles. Since most of these dark social sharing is on mobile devices, measuring this metric is very important.

GetSocial is an example of a software developer that provides an SDK that you can integrate in your mobile app to get tracking analytics to every event that occurs.

Over to you

Dark social has been leaving you in the dark for long. It is time for you to change that and use the ‘hidden dark social’ data to further optimize your growth strategies. Because no matter what your app or business has to offer, it is all about the customer in the end. And the customer might be in a dark social zone!

Track it all and don’t stay in the dark!