You’d be forgiven for thinking the term ‘dark social’ refers to some kind of dark web interaction or the more extreme get together of demonic attendees. While troublesome to social media managers, dark social is actually less sinister than the above.
Dark social refers to the links shared on private, rather than public, platforms such as Snapchat, email, SMS/text messaging, or chat apps (WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, etc.).
When someone shares a link privately, it becomes harder to track. For example, when someone sends a text to their friend with an article, they want them to read. Your analytic tools will still show traffic to your link, but you won’t know exactly where that traffic came from. This is because the ‘tracking cookies’ to show referring websites are not available for dark social apps. Dark social is essentially the traffic that gets lumped into ‘direct traffic’ on your analytics platform but actually comes from untraceable referrals. Millions of people do this every day; which means there is a considerable amount of ‘false analytics’.
This, therefore, causes headaches for marketers because if they don’t receive the full picture of the analytics of their website; they may end up wasting time and energy into optimising the wrong aspects of their site. Dark social traffic is therefore extremely valuable.
However, going about tracking this type of particular traffic is difficult because anything that puts a cloud over people’s data on their social network conversations isn’t particularly welcomed with open arms. Obtaining dark social analytics would be at the cost of consumers’ privacy.
Having said this, there are still ways to make educated guesses about quite how much traffic you have on your site is dark social. If you really analyse the direct traffic you receive, take note of really long links with complicated numbers and an alarming number of dashes as you can assume that a user did not type those in manually; therefore, it probably came from a dark social source. Also, you should add clear and visible sharing links to your website, focusing on buttons for those dark social apps such as WhatsApp and Messenger. If you make the share buttons the quicker and easier option, why would anyone not use them?