What is “Dark Social,” and is it a bad thing?

Dark social… It’s not as sinister as you may think. While some may hear the term and think it connects with “dark web,” it’s far from it. Coined in an article by Alexis Madrigal in The Atlantic in 2012, dark social refers to content being shared in a way that is hard to track.

Initially, this concept was primarily identified by sharing articles via email or instant messengers by copy and pasting a link. However, it has grown to more than just that due to changes in technology and online behaviors.

What Is Dark Social?

The term dark social relates to sharing content in a private manner. That’s it. Instead of clicking the “share” button on Facebook or blogs, the user copies the content or URL and distributes it via email, text, instant messaging or similar methods.
Consider how many times a week you find something interesting, and that one person comes to mind that needs to see it. So you send it directly to them. Dark Social. Or when you’re at work, and you want someone’s opinion on something you just read and invite them over to your desk. Dark Social.

Since the 2012 article, numerous studies have been done to identify how much traffic is shared through dark social. It’s estimated between 70% and 87% of traffic to a website could be linked to dark social.

Is It Really “Untraceable”?

Yes and no. In the cases of screenshots or screen sharing, yes, that is difficult to identify.

However, the sharing of links is not as hard to identify – if you know where to look. When reviewing Google Analytics, look closely at the direct traffic under the Acquisition section. If you see pages that had recently been shared on your Facebook page with a large amount of direct traffic, it is likely that followers shared the link directly with others instead of on Facebook.

Other tools that such as Google Campaign URLs and Bitly can be utilized to assist with tracking and readily identify initial sources.

How Does It Affect Businesses?

Business is directed by results. Results are driven by traffic.

Content should be easily accessible and easy to share. This may mean adding “share” buttons to your blog, creating social content with images that appeal to various demographics, and including enticing calls-to-action on a website that encourage end user activity. This also may require a further investigation into analytics, as well as strategy and preparation when creating and sharing content.

Content Worth Sharing

The purpose of creating content is for it to be seen and for the viewer to act on it. But what content is worth sharing? It is important to share the wealth of information that you have. There are people out there looking for it. Put it on the platforms that they are on – Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Reddit, etc.

Also add images that are interesting and engaging. Infographics and video demonstrations/tutorials are some of the most shared content on social – publicly and in the “dark.”

But don’t just create – document. Show the truth behind the scenes. Compare what happens when your advice isn’t taken, and what happens when it is. Show the hard work that goes into the services you provide, and the humor that occurs. Share your appreciation to your community and those you serve. Show the failures and what was learned from it. Introduce your team – not just their job titles, but who they are.

Provide content that is worth sharing and share it at a balanced interval on various platforms. Review your analytics, your form submissions and the questions you’re being asked. Follow the trends, and you can see how dark social works for you.

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