In a perfect world, the concept of social sharing operates as follows: you’re sitting in your office one afternoon and you come across a really interesting article about 12 unique ways to repurpose that old iPhone that is sitting in your desk drawer. You think to yourself “Hey, I know a lot of people who also have old iPhones they don’t know what to do with,” and you quickly share a link to that URL on Twitter so all your friends can see it. They then share it with their friends, who then share it with their friends, and before you know it, that article is everywhere.
The concept of “dark social” is more or less the exact opposite of that. “Dark social” is when you take that article and share it with another person using anything other than social media, like if you were to send it to a loved one via email or text message. There are a number of key things about the idea behind “dark social” that marketers in particular have to be aware of.
Many Marketers Experience It
Because “dark social” sharing is hard to pin down by its very nature, it should really come as no surprise that its literal definition is as simple as that: any Web traffic that is not attributed to a single, known source like Google or Twitter. If you’re hitting a situation where you’re getting traffic but have no idea where it’s coming from, congratulations: you’re experiencing “dark social” up close and personal.
Dark Social May Be an Accident in Certain Situations
Josh Schwartz, chief data scientist at Chartbeat, has been tracking the ideas behind “dark social” since they were originally discovered around 2012. He’s since learned a great deal, like the fact that sometimes “dark social” traffic can actually come from known referral sources who are going about things in exactly the wrong way.
It was discovered that Facebook doesn’t always attach the proper referral information to a link when a user discovers it via Facebook’s mobile app versus the desktop site. Likewise, Facebook can lack this information if a user chooses to open the link in a new tab, rather than just letting it continue on in the tab they were already viewing.
Shedding Light on Dark Social
One of the key ways marketers can get to the bottom of any “dark social” situations involves looking at simultaneous traffic patterns that may be emerging. If you’re unable to pin down where your traffic on a link is coming from, but you’re ALSO seeing a spike in traffic coming from Facebook or a site like Reddit, you’ve likely just found the culprit. You can also experiment with using shortened URLs for all of your outbound links to learn more about things like engagement rates, even if “dark social” situations do emerge.