Posted by Melanie Bartlett on

What is Dark Social and how can it affect your social media strategy?

Don’t worry we aren’t literally going to take you over to the dark side, but instead enlighten you all about ‘Dark Social’; what it means and how it could affect your social media strategy.


Q. What is Dark Social?
A. Dark Social is a term coined by Alexis C. Madrigal, tech editor at, in 2012, to refer to the social sharing of content that occurs when someone shares content or a link by copying and pasting into communications such as emails, instant messages and forum posts so, outside of what can be measured by web analytics programmes.

If you work for a brand or business that uses social media as one of their marketing channels you will have probably had to look at and analyse a web traffic source report. Have you ever noticed a large chunk of ‘direct’ traffic in your analytics tool and wondered what that is? Well, the term ‘direct’ is just a label put on to all traffic that arrives at a website without a referrer (the URL a user most recently visited before clicking over to the page in question).

In the early days of the web, everything was link based so you either discovered information via a search, via a link you had been given or you went directly to the site by typing the URL into the browser.

How do users now arrive at a website?
With the rise of online marketing and of mobile, times have changed and nowadays people can arrive at a site without going to the site directly. Here are just a few examples:

1. Mobile Apps – such as Facebook, Instagram
2. Messaging apps – chat-based apps such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Google Hangout and Slack
3. Email – to protect customer’s privacy referrers aren’t shared
4. Secure browsing – if you click from HTTPS to HTTP the referrer won’t be passed on


Dark social represents more sharing activity than any other public sharing channels combined



According to Programmatic ad buying platform RadiumOne, sharing activity through email, instant messaging and forum posts, aka Dark Social, is three times larger than the sharing activity on Facebook, globally. 69% of all sharing activity takes place via Dark Social globally versus 23% via Facebook.





What does ‘Dark Social’ mean for you?

As we have demonstrated, it is quite clear that most ‘direct traffic’ is far from direct and could actually mean you are missing out on key insights about how your customers are finding your content and products.

By acknowledging and acting on dark social data there is huge potential to significantly improve your ‘Return on Investment’ (ROI) from your social media and digital marketing campaigns as well as engage with your customers in a way you’ve never thought have before.

If you would like us to review your marketing and social media strategies and help identify key opportunities to improve your ROI, please call us on 01903 327 002, we’d love to hear from you.



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