Professional communicators and marketers have slowly but surely become more data-driven as they seek to prove their ROI to c-level executives. But what if we told you that about 82% of content shared on mobile is untrackable with your web analytics tools. Is it some malicious hacker activity? If you are unfamiliar with the term, dark social can sound a little suspicious. Let’s break it down.

For example: you see a Facebook post about media monitoring that you want to share with your co-worker. Rather than share the post to their Facebook profile, you share a link to the product page via email. Millions of people do this every day. When the link is clicked, your co-worker will be taken directly to the webpage and an analytics tool will not be able to track that this link was first found on Facebook. This is dark social.

When somebody clicks a link in your blog, Facebook or Twitter, your analytics tools kicks in. These tools will tell you exactly where that referral came from thanks to the tags associated to the links.

A review of your web analytics may reveal a high percentage of “direct” traffic referrals, which imply someone has come directly to your page without any assistance. If you think that through, it is rather unlikely that people are typing into their browser. They are clicking on a link that has come to them another way, a dark mysterious way.

Today around 70% of all online referrals are coming from dark social and it’s important for marketers to understand the impact that this is having on their ability to collect data and accurately measure the performance of their content and channels.



According to Econsultancy, some of the channels responsible for dark social include:

  • Some native mobile apps – Facebook, Instagram, etc.
  • Email – to protect users’ privacy, referrers aren’t passed.
  • Messaging apps – WhatsApp, WeChat, Facebook Messenger, etc.
  • Secure browsing – If you click from HTTPS to HTTP the referrer won’t be passed on

Why should marketers care about dark social?

The important thing for marketers to note is that links shared through dark social tactics lack referral tags and so will show in your analytics as direct traffic, even though it is not truly direct traffic. It came from a social channel.

Dark social isn’t necessarily bad – it still converts leads. If you send a product link to your friend, there is a high probability that they will buy it. As marketers, we need to accurately attribute leads and conversions and with so much happening in dark social, this task is becoming more difficult.

Without referral links, which are lost in dark social, we cannot definitively measure the impact of our social strategy and efforts. Being able to track the performance of certain channels is critical to any multichannel strategy; it allows you to uncover which channels require more or less investment to allocate funds accordingly. When approaching the C-suite for a bigger piece of the budget pie, it’s important to demonstrate how social is directly contributing to the bottom line as part of your multichannel campaign.

What can marketers do?

On one hand, while there is no tool that allows you to accurately track dark social (you can’t track people’s private messages!), there are a few things you can do to better track your social ROI. If you deploy careful usage of UTM parameters on your website and all of its pages, you can collect another portion of this data, but nowhere near all of it.

This makes monitoring all available conversations that much more important. You may not know when someone sends their mom a video by email but you can track when they retweet it, or share it on their own blog. If someone is willing to share content privately, which is a very powerful endorsement of a piece of content (in most cases), then there should be activity from these authors on public social channels as well.

The goal of finding people who engage with your content is two-fold: firstly, we want to identify potential brand advocates and customers. Secondly, we want to measure and replicate the success of the engaging content.

With detailed social listening on your brand’s content you can find the commenters who are most engaged with your brand and motivate them to keep on sharing, whether it is into the specious realms of dark social or their own Twitter feed.

Using Cision Social Media Analytics will allow you to drive business decisions, influence strategy and optimize marketing investments that lead to meaningful brand success. To request a demo of Cision Social Media Analytics, click here.


About Amy-Louise Tracey

Amy-Louise Tracey is the Communications Manager at CNW Group. Follow her @AmyLouiseTracey.

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