Dark social may sound scary and complicated, but it’s far from that. In fact, you’ve probably enjoyed your fair share of dark social in your personal life.
Say you come across a funny, slightly embarrassing article at the office. You want to share it with one of your coworkers. Do you tweet it to them? Share it on your Facebook page? Since you don’t want everyone to know your business (or inside jokes), you probably private message them, email them or just walk over and show it to them. In doing this, you’re messing with the analytics for that site.
Now, imagine that the article you showed to your coworker got a great laugh and people from other cubicles gathered around to see what was so funny. Now the content has gotten at least 10 extra views, but there’s no way for analytics to track this. You can just imagine how one piece of content can be shared by so many people yet never make it into analytics.
This is a classic example of dark social. Dark social is essentially any type of traffic that is not attributed to a known source. There are two reasons why this happens. The first is that analytics can’t trace where the visitor is coming from, such as when people share content through private messages or emails. The second is because users share links with UTM parameters on an incorrect platform.
We may have lied when we said that dark social wasn’t complicated. It’s not complicated to understand how and why it happens, but it is complicated to track and measure. Because of this, there’s no single way to effectively track dark social, at least at this time. The best you can do is be aware that this does exist and that your content is being seen and shared more than you realize.
You can get a quick glimpse of dark social traffic, however, so that you’re not completely in the dark. Direct traffic is a good measure to use because when a user is sent to your site on a link without a UTM parameter, they’ll get channeled into direct traffic. These links are pretty easy to pull out from the crowd because they are long and complex and no one could remember them or be motivated to type them into a browser. So if you find long, complicated URLs in your direct traffic, it’s likely that it’s dark social.