The stark truth about Dark Social

secret photo

Photo by Roberto Verzo 

There are billions of Social Media users in the world today and they are all under the impression that most of the content that is shared, happens on platforms like Twitter and Instagram and Facebook.

But they are wrong. Very wrong, in fact.

You might be using sophisticated tools to measure the effectiveness of Social Media, but are you sure that you are seeing the entire picture?

Did you know that there is a possibility that a lot of content sharing can slip completely under the radar?

It all happens in the realm of “Dark Social”

So what is Dark Social?

The term was coined in 2012 in The Atlantic by a senior editor, Alexis C. Madrigal. And it refers to web traffic that cannot be picked by any Web Analytics tools or applications. It is not because some miscreants or others are doing something deliberately to keep it off the radar, but it comes from people sharing links and content privately. This could be through Instant Messaging applications like Whatsapp or email, etc.

So what does this mean?

This leaves the tracker in the dark – you don’t know where the traffic is coming from! That is because these links don’t have any referral tags attached to them.

So this is one huge chunk that isn’t picked up by any tracking tool!

Which leaves you to wonder – how much of an accurate picture is anyone really getting? Especially since Dark Social constitutes as much as 69% of all the content that is shared worldwide! (According to a study by RadiumOne)

  • You don’t know where a huge chunk of your visitors are coming from
  • You can’t trace the source of any traffic with any level of accuracy
  • You won’t be able to get a complete idea or a total picture
  • You don’t really know how effective your posts on Social Media really are!


Studies show that many of those who are of those ages 55 and older, share via Dark Social. And as much as 70% of social sharing is done through dark social in personal finance, food, and drink, travel or executive search segments.

So what does one do!

You can start by being aware that all your tracking of social media traffic may not give you the whole picture! There is just no way to track what is shared through instant messages or email! Those areas are hard to measure! To make this kind of Dark Social easier, there are hardly any “Share with a friend” options on many web pages. Which leaves customers with no other option but to share content in ways that can skip the tracking of a radar completely.

So in such a scenario what can a marketer do?

Keep in touch with the developments in this area so he can start tracking those areas that have not been tracked before. He can start to make building email lists a part of his Social Media plan. He can try and discourage Dark Social by disabling the “copy and paste” options on this site.

When an analytics tool picks up a long URL you can almost be sure that the link has been shared through Dark Social. And there are tools like Tynt which will show you what words customers copy and paste from your website.

There is still a lot that is ‘dark’ in this area – but the key take-back from all of this is that one needs to be aware that something like this exists. Because once you realize this, you will know how off strategy to track has been hitherto!


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