In a world where measuring and managing social data is a common function of most successful businesses, it’s hard to imagine that the largest source of social sharing – by a wide margin – is often ignored or misunderstood.
According to a recent study conducted by social engagement firm RadiumOne, Dark Social – defined as “social sharing that occurs in private digital communication tools such as email and instant messaging” – represents 69% of social sharing, and three times the social sharing activity of Facebook alone.
Why do brands ignore Dark Social?
Since URL tagging is often left behind in the process of Dark Social sharing – often lumping the traffic in the “direct” bucket in analytics – most brands are currently oblivious to the impact of privately shared content. This problem has become worse with the rise of mobile apps for social sharing sites.
Studies have found inconsistency in the way referring URLs are tagged from sources like Facebook and Reddit’s mobile applications when they are shared, making it difficult to make informed decisions about what content is and isn’t working.
Why should I care?
With such a large percentage of social sharing happening through private communications, the numbers really speak for themselves. Whether Dark Social accounts for sixty or sixteen percent of your site’s web traffic, it helps to know how to use it for your advantage.
But taking a look at the intent behind a Dark Social share is where businesses can really find the value of this exciting opportunity. A Dark Social share is inherently personal, whereas a tweet or Facebook share that is seen by several hundred followers is not personal, and trends toward lower levels of relevance and higher levels of virality.
According to the RadiumOne study, people share content via Dark Social for very specific reasons, like entertaining, helping with decisions, solving a problem or proving a point. These messages represent the genuine interests of the sharers and their recipients, presenting advertisers and publishers with a much more accurate and actionable representation of audience intent and interest than “light” social sharing.
What it means for advertisers and publishers
According to data from a Tpoll survey conducted on behalf of RadiumOne, 32% of consumers who share content online do so ONLY through Dark Social, and 93% use Dark Social in addition to other channels. Plus, the study finds that clickback rates, or the number of times someone clicked on the link you shared, are very high on messaging shared via Dark Social means.
In order for advertisers and publishers to get the complete picture of where their traffic is coming from, it’s important to act on Dark Social insights that can be measured in a number of different ways. Dark Social insights can provide an offset to what is popular in social media by offering insight into what is valuable enough to share one-to-one or one-to-few.
Shedding light on Dark Social
Now that you understand the size and significance of the opportunity that Dark Social presents, how do you start to discover details about your content that is being shared darkly and put a strategy in place?
Integrate short URLS
Most advertisers and publishers understand that short URL’s can be an effective way to save space in social media posts, but the real benefit comes from the ability to use the resulting data to measure reach and gain audience insights without having to access web analytics. If you post a long URL, you won’t be able to track real-time engagement with it or clicks, but when you shorten a URL, you’ll be able to track click-through rates and even track where they are clicking from.
In order to properly capture your Dark Social data, make sure to find a URL shortener that tracks copy-and-paste activity, and captures data across multiple devices. This is especially important considering that 36% of Dark Social sharing takes place on mobile devices globally according to Alexis Madrigal, who originally coined the term back in 2012.
Real time social data
Insights and analytics are a fantastic start to informing your engagement strategy, but acting on those insights will turn your social media cost into a social media investment. When taking a look in your analytics, see if there is a noticeable jump in direct traffic that coincides with a new piece of content that you released on Facebook/Twitter. By regularly doing this content/traffic analysis, you can begin to uncover the content that is having an impact outside of your light social channels.
Capturing and tracking the high volume of valuable real-time data that comes from Dark Social and short URL sharing will also be helpful when using paid media to retarget consumers who show genuine interest and intent. According to RadiumOne, the most effective and lucrative way to act on real-time social data is to use it to inform programmatic media buying.
Know your audience
As more millennials are trading links via text and WhatsApp, brands will continue to see their Dark Social traffic rise, and must adjust to fit with the times. Currently, however, baby boomers actually represent a higher proportion of consumers who include Dark Social in their sharing activities or only share via Dark Social. No matter your audience, ensuring you are reaching them in the correct way via the correct channels is now more important than ever.
Learning if your audience shares different types of content differently can also help to inform your strategy. How is your entertaining, snackable content being shared versus your serious, value-driven content? This breakdown can help you plan an editorial calendar with the best mix of serious and snackable content to further engage your Dark Social audience.
Content is still king
Measuring and managing your Dark Social traffic is an effective way to learn the intent and interest behind the actions of your consumers, but it’s no substitute for creating quality content.
In his original article introducing the concept of Dark Social, Madrigal writes, “The only real way to optimize for social spread is in the nature of the content itself. 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.” The best way to create content that is guaranteed to be shared is by writing interesting, informative material.
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