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Making the most of what you can’t see

What does the term Dark social make you think of? Most people jump to the Dark Web – stolen data, neckbeards, hitmen and whatever else is on there. But that’s a misconception. Dark social and the Dark Web aren’t connected at all.  

The terminology was coined by journalist Alexis C. Madrigal back in 2012. Essentially, Dark social refers to any web traffic that’s not tracked by traditional web analytics tools. Think of the TikTok/YouTube/X links that you text to friends and family…OR the links you share within private messages on those apps. 

Anything from products to videos and articles that are shared directly from consumer to consumer would constitute Dark social – which presents a challenge to brands looking for media attribution.  

It’s exciting to notice a sudden spike in site visitors or orders, but tricky to harness when you’re not sure how they got to you in the first place. As marketers, we are endlessly refining our messaging and user demographics, and we love relying on attribution: UTMS, tags and cookies. 

 We are conditioned to think inside the box – or rather – in the light.  

 That wouldn’t be a problem if we were hitting targets to our full potential, but the data suggests a minimum of 70% of all online sharing originates through dark social. And while the empirical evidence is strong, the anecdotal supplements are stronger.  

By the very nature of Dark social, the content is being shared directly to you by people you likely trust. The private nature, in turn, is likely to influence your purchasing decisions immensely. 

That means, while difficult to leverage, Dark social holds massive opportunity. Now, you can employ a host of social listening tools to monitor hashtags or keywords and potentially give you an edge. But that is still playing defense – the best practices are proactive.  

Let’s talk table stakes for tracking Dark social: all your existing content should still be as trackable (AND shareable) as possible. Further, take another look at your Google Analytics and make sure you have segments in place to monitor traffic to deep pages on your site.  

But instead of just reacting to Dark social sharing, the most innovative brands encourage it. Aiding in authenticity and cultural relevance, it can turn a facet of obscured growth into a visible source you control.  

Private subreddits and invite-only Facebook pages are the simplest ways to contribute to your brand’s Dark social presence. There are also independent platforms which host these kinds of brand forums – which, in addition to an air of exclusivity, serve to centralize your customer base.  

Posting a series revolving around your product or industry is the fastest way to grow Dark (or light) social sharing. A hidden web page only gains traction through valuable content posted on a regular basis.  

Dark social is a good reminder of the importance of direct feedback. We often get wrapped up in future creative or impending trends, but past user experience remains the best barometer of brand health.  

Whatever that looks like (surveys/emails or SMS blasts) the quicker you learn how customers found you, the better you’ll be able to serve them.  

By incorporating Dark social into your marketing strategy, you can tap into a powerful source of engagement that will help you connect with your audience on a deeper level. In our ever-evolving landscape, don’t leave anything on the table.  

Noah Bridges

Author Noah Bridges

Digital Marketing

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