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

Posted by Tiger Marketing on 10 August 2019

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 media’; what it means and how it could affect your social media strategy. What is dark social?

What is dark social media?

Dark social is a term coined by Alexis C. Madrigal, tech editor at Atlantic.com, 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. They are essentially ‘invisible’ shares that sit 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.

The most common dark social traffic channels are:

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

How do users now arrive at a website?

Dark social represents more sharing activity than any other public sharing channels combinedWith the rise of online marketing and of mobile, times have changed and nowadays people can arrive at a website without going to the site directly.

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 content is being shared on dark social media platforms?

According to a study from GlobalWebIndex and creative agency We Are Social who looked at more than 3,000 internet users aged 16 to 64 in the UK and US, the content most commonly being shared was:

  • Music and film (51%)
  • Games (48%)
  • Clothing (47%)
  • Electronics (46%)
  • Food & drink items (42%)
  • Travel (41%

Another interesting statement was the fact that consumers are more likely to be comfortable “being themselves” when sharing on private channels (48%), compared to sharing publicly to a news feed of followers (13%), a crucial consideration for marketers and business owners.

What does ‘dark social’ mean for you as a business?

As we have demonstrated, it’s 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. Dark social is becoming a huge traffic source and one that businesses need to take notice of and integrate into their social media marketing strategies.

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 ways you’ve never thought of before.

Dark social gives you a detailed account of your audiences insights and real interests. Once you start delving into the data, you’ll discover what content your audience likes as well as how they frequently prefer to share that content with friends and family. By understanding this information you’ll gain valuable insight and access to a targeted audience that can help grow your online and brand presence.

5 ways you can increase dark social media traffic

Here are a few tactics both quick wins and long term gains you can use to grow your dark social traffic:

Shorten your URL links

Use a service like Bit.ly or Firebase Dynamic Links to shorten URL’s. As well as making them shorter and more user friendly they will also give you the option to customise and make them more memorable. These shortened links will add trackability to your content so you can analyse your user engagement properly.

Add highly visible sharing buttons

Make sharing easy by strategically add sharing buttons across your website so they are easy for visitors to spot. Include the most popular dark social channels such as WhatsApp, Wechat and email.

Create and maintain bespoke content

Encourage conversations and deploy interactive content that can create momentum and will have a long tail value beyond the initial share. You need to avoid the sales patter; remember you’re encroaching on a private and less formal forum, so you need a reason to be there beyond a sales pitch.

Add value to your dark social content

Create a new community by offering added value to your dark social content such as behind the scenes access, exclusive previews of your products or services or even added value offers and discounts.

Look over your current social results

There’s no point reinventing the wheel when you already have useful insight and data at your fingertips. Look over your current social results and see where your current traffic is coming from and how much direct traffic you already have. This will then determine which dark social platforms you need to focus on, and the type of content required.


Dark social traffic is growing and becoming a highly valuable tool and should be included within your social media marketing strategy, especially as private messaging app usage continues to rise. It’s time to uncover the treasure and bring it into the light and start creating content that your audience can’t help sharing.






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