All you need to know about Dark Social in 2019
By David Kenechukwu Obi and Spiros Tsaltas
Have you shared an article/ URL (maybe one of our own?) with WhatsApp? Or with an email?
Then…. Congratulations! You have been an active participant in the “Dark Social”!!
FYI: This is a summary of presentations that we gave at U. of Ghana, Workshed and other places during the last 5-6 months.
But, what is Dark Social?
The term “dark social” was coined in 2012 Alexis Madrigal at the Atlantic Magazine (https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/10/dark-social-we-have-the-whole-history-of-the-web-wrong/263523 ).
Madrigal loosely defines Dark Social as all social traffic that is essentially invisible to most analytics software applications. Basically Dark Social is when we do share any kind of content through private channels such as any Instant Messaging platforms (WhatsApp or Google Hangouts for example) or messaging apps (like IMO or WhatsApp or Viber) and email.
This kind of genuine private sharing is harder to detect and track than the usual content that is shared on public platforms such as Facebook or Twitter, etc.
According to estimates, Dark Social is accountable for about 84% of all outbound sharing (source: this 2016 report https://radiumone.com/darksocial).
Strangely enough, so many people -including many Social Media Marketers, do not realize how big of a slice the Dark Social has (of the whole Social Media sharing pie).
So, the obvious question is: can you harness it for your business? Here’s everything you need to know.
How Important is the Dark Social?
The notion is that the sharing of content and links that is not visible to businesses, is just a tip of the social iceberg. The Dark Social takes place when people copy-and-paste content or links from a website into a private message and selectively share it with their connections: their friends, family and colleagues.
It’s not just about the quantity of traffic here - which is quite high, but it is about the quality, the notion of referral/ the old fashion word- of- mouth, and trust!
The possibility of tapping into the Dark Social, could allow Marketers to understand how consumers share (and what do they share) in one-to-one social situations/ interactions via messaging apps, IM, email, etc.
And that could open up a new World of Social to listen, learn, and engage.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but at least 70% (some estimates are as high as 86%) of content sharing happens not on social networks such as Facebook or twitter but via email, text messaging, or instant messaging. It’s called dark social for a reason: because it’s happening in channels that aren’t traced by common Web-tracking software. It is difficult, if not impossible, for a marketer to just start tracking Dark Social shares without a suite of tools running on thousands of sites.
Most of the sharing solutions available to marketers track the content that is shared on social networks only. Content shared via email and other personal channels creates a valuable network of related users, that can be the basis of a highly effective segment for ad targeting. Yet, without the ability to track Dark Social sharing, marketers are missing out on the opportunity to offer relevant ads to this valuable audience.
Issues with the Dark Social
To date, Dark Social cannot be accurately measured. While efforts to “see” into these unknown sources of online traffic will surely push technological boundaries, true success will be achieved through tracking methods that honor the intentions of the sharer. Communication channels such as email and Instant Messenger are private for a reason, enabling people to share information and interests with discretion and directness. These one-to-one and one-to-few moments are important to preserve and protect—they build relationships and demonstrate intentional consideration of those we care about. How can we continue to encourage these intimate, personal behaviors while enabling marketers with relevant Dark Social data?
Another vital issue to consider is that Apple by default turns off third-party impression tracking in iOS Safari. As a result, a large amount of mobile traffic that comes from ads or other sharing is showing up as Dark Social. These Dark Social sharings carry much more weight than a Facebook post or a Tweet.
Tools for Dark Social
We provide this list purely for awareness purposes. Neither the editor or owner of this news media nor we have any monetary gain nor any otehr financial motivation for it.
And, the list is:
Po.st has two parts: (i) a social media sharing tool placing social media share buttons on your website and (ii) a link shortener.
Thus can track all of the engagement from those buttons or links)
ShareThis offers 3 useful possibilities:
(i)social sharing buttons on your website. All with just a single line of code.
(ii) it lets you A/B test your Facebook posts.
(iii) it will alert you when your website’s content is trending, so that you can watch in real-time when your content is being shared.
GetSocial.io offers its social share buttons and its private messenger tracking.
Then go to the “Address bar tracking” app and activate it.
Similar to the other 3 tools above: it provides social share buttons for your website and copy-and-paste code that will track dark social media shares.
- Google Analytics
This can be easily googled, so we will not go deeper into it
Again, none of these tools is perfect, so let’s have a look at some possible ‘Workarounds’.
Dark Social ‘WorkArounds’
There are some ways that can measure, or at least estimate, activities like shares on dark social, as well as provide effective alternatives:
#1 Use of Shorten Url’s: Most tools that shorten URLs -like bit.ly for example- have an administrative interface that allows you to customize and see a great deal of detail about how and when your content is shared. You can then see how many times a link was copied, as well as all the direct clicks and shares by location, referrer, and device. Just drop the code into your CMS on all the pages you want to track. Few ways to use Short URLs includes; Social Posts, Text Messaging, Search Campaigns, Email Blasts, Press Releases, Offline Campaigns, Blog Posts, QR Codes, AD Tags, Embedded in Videos, Email Signatures.
#2 Use of Tracking Tags: E-commerce sites use tracking tags to measure the source of their Web traffic. When someone clicks an ad, instead of going to say, xyzsite.com/thisdress, it shows xyzsite.com/thisdress/?sourceid=facebookad.
This tells the tracking software that the user came from an ad. Tracking software then places a cookie on that user’s browser, and when that user buys something, the tracking software gives credit to the Facebook ad. But in a iPhone with Safari iOS, by default it will not let ‘drop cookies’; the URL still shows up with the Facebook tag on mobile, but since no cookie is dropped, as soon as the user navigates away from that first page, say by clicking the add-to-cart button, a new URL comes up that doesn’t have the Facebook tag. Voila: Dark Social.
#3 Use of Pixel: there is technology that allows the content- publisher to place a pixel on all of its content. When a user shares all or just a piece of an article, the pixel travels with the content as it is shared. Technical solution but it works.
#4 Using Click-redirect: Marketers and their clients, they see all their investment in mobile Facebook ads return almost no revenue from iPhone users, because the purchases that come from iPhones are being attributed to Dark Social instead of Facebook.
The solution? Click-redirect. Marketers can set up their tracking software to direct the URL first to, let’s say trackingsoftware.com/xyzcompany/?source=Facebook, even if just for a split second, before that URL automatically redirects the user back to XYZ Company’s website for the item being purchased. That redirect enables the tracking software to be the first ‘visited site’ before blocked by Safari iPhones.
#5 Creating unique URLs: One way marketers could estimate the impact of dark social would be to create a campaign paired with a unique URL (for example a specific landing page for that campaign) that’s exclusively advertised on social media channels; for those of you who are more technical, use for instance a more complicated URL string, on a non-indexed page, that is not in your site navigation.
Once the campaign has run its course, remove social-channel referrals and your remainder will be an approximation of the amount of Dark Social lift.
As an example, let’s say that 1,000 visits go to the unique URL, and 900 are referred from a social channel. That remaining 100 visits represents an approximate 10% lift in site traffic that can be attributed to Dark Social.
While this provides a good estimate into traffic that resulted from a share that occurred outside of social channels, it is not perfect by any means. Unfortunately, full Dark Social impact and true social incremental measurement are a limitation of social media in general.
#6 Use of Social Buttons: Social buttons that display the number of times a piece of content has been shared are useful: They provide social proof while giving marketers insight to a piece of content’s popularity.
Please note: The above list of workarounds is not an exhaustive one.
As Madrigal pointed out, “There’s no way to game email or people’s instant messages. There’s no power- users you can contact. There’s no algorithms to understand.”
And of course, the best way to ensure your content gets shared is to create interesting, informative, original material. Content is the King.
Thank you and Good Luck .
David + Spiros
About the Authors:
David Kenechukwu Obi is a co-founder of Joluud.com a facility management software company, and a founder of Cusites.net an airlines insights platform. Still a mentee of Spiros Tsaltas, David is determined to bring ground breaking solutions from Africa to the rest of the world. He can be reached at +233 57 387 7078.
Spiros Tsaltas -a PR Practitioner & former University Professor, is a PRrincipal at HireLoyalty (www.HireLoyalty.com) , the only Strategic PR Firm in West Africa that Consults (How-To), Measures (Test-To) and Trains (Learn-To) in anything relating to Customer Loyalty and Loyalty- focused PR. HireLoyalty can be reached at +233 20 741 3060 or +233 26 835 2026
Finally, they welcome all your comments/ remarks/ feedback /suggestions at Press [at] HireLoyalty.com.
© 2019 Spiros Tsaltas and © 2019 HireLoyalty and © 2019 Cusites