What is dark social and how can it attract customers?


Be part of the REAL conversation by opening the door to dark social

As marketers, our job is to help clients find their audiences and engage with them in meaningful ways. But what do we do when we find ourselves competing in crowded digital marketplaces?

Getting the attention of your customers and prospects is becoming increasingly difficult as the marketplace becomes saturated with various channels and marketers fighting for your customer’s attention. So, what can you do to position yourself ahead of your competition?


Introducing dark social

Dark social is not in any way connected to the dark web or anything diabolical—on the contrary—it refers simply to hidden or unseen. Dark social is all the online social sharing and activity that occurs OUTSIDE of public social media posts. Best examples would be customers sharing your content via email, private messaging, in chat forums or with word-of-mouth.

Dark social is special in that it can’t be tracked and analyzed through traditional means, and therefore lacks one of the main selling points of digital marketing: the ability to tie results directly to campaigns.

Of course, dark social has existed since the early days of the Internet, but it is rapidly growing again after consumers are realizing that many of the channels that they spend time on are getting too crowded and invasive. As a result of this, more and more sharing and conversations are now again taking place in private.

Some of the channels responsible for dark social traffic include:

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


Why does dark social matter?

Studies show that an astounding 84% of sharing happens via email, instant messaging and text, leaving just 16% of sharing to public social accounts. This means that a large chunk of referral traffic is extremely difficult to measure accurately.

But you also have to consider the value of this kind of traffic. Suppose a farmer finds a link for a product that she knows her friend is looking for, and emails that link to her, it’s a fair assumption to say she is more likely to convert.

This makes dark social traffic extremely valuable. It is effectively word-of-mouth between people who are likely to know each other well.

Imagine then that you could get your customers and prospects engaged and talk about your product or services through closed channels, you would be able to leverage the ~80% power in dark social to your advantage.


What can marketers do about it?

While you won’t be able to fully track dark social traffic, marketers can take some steps that will narrow things down.

At Flint, we will use UTM parameters to track all outbound links and measure inbound traffic. This enables us to get a reasonably accurate picture of how much traffic is coming from dark social.

We have also set up a segment in our analytics that takes into account all direct traffic links with parameters, so for us it would be links that aren’t Similarly, for clients.

Dark social is not going away any time soon—consumers are always going to prefer sharing with friends, family, coworkers and colleagues privately.

Interacting directly with consumers in these private channels is one approach; creating more relevant, sharable content that encourages sharing is another. What is essential in both of these cases is that the privacy of consumers is respected.

Questions or would like more insight? We’d love to help you be part of the REAL conversation.


Christian Baun is an IBM Watson and Google certified Marketing Automation Specialist who enjoys solving problems, discovering new music and talking about the future of A.I. Read more on his website.

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