Engagement through social channels has grown beyond upvotes, likes, and retweets. More activity on social platforms now happens outside of public view. Twitter DMs, Snapchat private stories, and other messaging features play a big role in how your prospects and customers are using social media.
Private use of social is harder to track that publicly accessible content. The old saying “out of sight, out of mind” can describe the blind spot dark social presents to today’s marketers.
Dark social traffic doesn’t contain referrer data, the tags, UTM parameters, and other meta signals that indicate the source of the click. The most diligently tagged social campaigns lose any semblance of traceability when links are copied without the tags included and pasted into an instant message.
This traffic will most often show up in your analytics as a “direct” referral. It’s not very likely users are typing in the entire URL of these pages into their browser. A larger portion of that “direct” referral traffic is coming from dark social. Shares from dark social now represent 84 percent of shares globally according to RadiumOne.
This year, dark social overtook Facebook as the leading source of social referral traffic according to Smart Insights.
The opportunities available in this growing area of activity has been attracting marketers. Dark social activity is most likely to reveal consumers’ real interests. A growing segment of consumers appear to be sharing via dark social. Dark social sharing is more prevalent in some verticals.
The current state of dark social and the difficulty tracking it like other digital activity doesn’t mean marketers have to fly blind. Dark social tracking solutions are becoming available. Share This can be customized to track URL shares from copy and pasting. Getsocial can track dark social activity through code added to your Website. Tools like these can reveal how your online content is being used in private messages. Some analysts are also looking more closely at the “user agent” tag users leave when they visit Websites. This can show some information about where the user came from. This can be time-consuming and does require some analytical sophistication.
B2B marketers have been using direct messaging to prospects on platforms like LinkedIn for some time. It is likely features like this will become more prevalent on other social platforms. Many brands already use chatbots in messaging platforms to handle customer service communications. These brands are visible to their customers in ways others are not.
Dark social plays a role in the increasing personalization of marketing efforts. Users consuming your content create opportunities to remarket advertising to them specific to the interests indicated in their dark social activity. Being relevant to individuals without needing personally-identifiable data is the key.
Eventually, you may start creating content designed to be engaged by your audience on dark social channels. It’s still possible to appeal to these users, even with the somewhat limited insights available compared to other digital channels. If your content and storytelling initiatives are strong, there’s no reason you can’t engage a dark social audience.
Digital marketing is more measurable than ever, making it easy to overlook dark social and the potential value these channels have to brands. Using tools and determination can extend your marketing strategies to reach users in the growing dark social space.