Dark social may sound sinister, but in reality, it’s one of the most common occurrences in our everyday lives. Have you ever shared an article with your best friend via WhatsApp? If so, that share constitutes dark social. Dark social refers to sharing online content through private channels such as DMs, messaging apps, email, or other non-public platforms. It is called “dark” because this activity is challenging to track using traditional analytics tools, leading to unattributed or unrecognized traffic sources.
While the precise number of shares attributed to dark social is difficult to come by, it is estimated that around 84% of all shares can be traced to ‘hidden’ sources such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, private subreddits, Facebook Groups, Slack, or email. Because messaging apps such as WhatsApp boast 2 billion users in 2023, it’s safe to assume there’s a lot of activity that goes unattributed each and every day.
As marketers, this is a huge problem. After all, the best marketing strategies and methodologies are only as good as the data that showcases the results and ROI of our efforts. And if our data is flawed, we won’t know which channels are best to invest in or which content resonates most on which networks. We also miss rich insights about audience preferences, desires, and sentiments that could inform sales conversations and help drive more leads through the funnel.
Instead of continuously missing opportunities, this article will shed light on dark social and help illuminate ways to better trace and attribute valuable social insights that often go undetected.
Dark Social: Shedding Light on the Problem
Your brand’s website is your most valuable marketing asset. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Google Analytics ranks among the most crucial tools for marketers. Offering comprehensive insights such as visitor numbers, geographic locations, popular pages, and traffic sources, Google Analytics empowers marketers to make informed decisions for optimizing their online presence. Recognizing the origins of website traffic is pivotal, as it aids in understanding the effectiveness of various marketing strategies, allowing for adjustments based on what resonates with our audience. For instance, if your team recently initiated an advertising campaign on Instagram, it’s essential to examine how many users clicked through to your website from this specific campaign.
Despite Google Analytics’s centrality in marketing, it is far from perfect. In fact, a significant portion of traffic that is considered to be ‘direct’ on Google Analytics is from untraceable sources, or other words, dark social. For example, a recent study found that 100% of traffic originating from TikTok profiles, Slack, WhatsApp, and others was wrongly attributed as direct traffic rather than their actual sources. Furthermore, 75% of traffic from Facebook Messenger contained no referral data whatsoever.
So let’s say you post a blog on X (formerly Twitter) which is shared by one of your X followers to a colleague of his on WhatsApp. Then, this colleague proceeds to click through to your website and read your blog. Without the proper attribution, you’d never know where the traffic originated from, to what extent your content resonates with your X audience, or even get an accurate understanding of how much of your web traffic originates on X. Your social media team is also missing out on getting credit for their hard work because you are unable to tie their content directly to lead generation, even though you are getting clicks to your website from their campaigns.
Dark Social No More: How to Reveal Hidden Social Interactions
While UTM links are not adequate for getting the full picture of social media performance, they are a great way to measure incoming traffic from social platforms.
Harnessing the power of UTMs opens up a realm of detailed insights into your traffic. Unlike standard analytics that might just tell you a visitor’s origin from a particular domain, the UTM link lets you dive deeper. You get to know not only the originating domain but also the exact webpage, the specific ad or campaign that grabbed their attention, and a treasure trove of additional data.
UTMs include the following parameters:
Source: Identifies the origin of your incoming traffic, such as TikTok.
Medium: Specifies the particular campaign type responsible for the incoming traffic, like social media.
Campaign: Refers to the title of your campaign, for example, employee advocacy.
Terms: Tracks keywords, typically utilized for paid campaigns.
Content: Identifies the specific content piece that was clicked on, such as a recruitment video.
Once you put it all together, your URL will look something like this:
To reduce instances of dark social, make sure all blogs, social content, videos, case studies, and anything else you’d want to track use UTM links that attribute them to the right sources. Make sure your social sharing buttons for email, WhatsApp, and other sources are specifically linked with UTM parameters since they’re often untraceable with analytics alone.
If creating different UTM links for all your content sounds cumbersome, Oktopost has you covered. All content shared within Oktopost is automatically set up with UTMs so you can easily measure your content, campaigns, and traffic sources without manual effort.
Employ Social Listening
Are members of your target audience talking about your blog post on Reddit? Are there discussions about your latest video on X?
You can’t be everywhere at once, but that doesn’t mean you have to miss out on hidden interactions with your content. For this reason, you should use a social listening tool that will pick up on your brand name as well as specific keywords and hashtags related to your industry.
By employing a social listening tool, you’ll be able to track more of the conversations around your content and brand, identify the source, and measure its impact. Oktopost not only provides social listening but also offers unique dashboards and reporting so you can better understand the sentiment behind each mention as well as the source where it originated. This way, you won’t have to miss engagements from Reddit, blogs, or any other social forum.
Furthermore, you can leverage social listening to keep tabs on your competitors. This way, you can catch any mentions of rival brands and seamlessly join the conversation as it unfolds, ensuring that your brand stays fresh in people’s minds.
Get Active on Social Forums
Private subreddits are often a significant source of dark social. If your audience frequents these platforms, consider establishing a presence on Reddit and other forums pertinent to your customer base. This approach allows you to stay updated on discussions surrounding your brand, monitor and track shares, and actively contribute to shaping a positive perception of your brand within these conversations.
Another bonus? You’ll get ideas from your audience about the types of content and platforms that resonate with them so you’ll have an easier time attracting them to your brand.
Create Customized Pages for Social Sharing
If you find that you’re getting a significant amount of unattributed social traffic to your website it may be worthwhile to create custom pages specifically for sharing on social networks. For example, you can make landing pages, forms, and even blogs that will only be shared on social and then easily track these URLs. This way, if you see traffic to these pages, you’ll automatically know they stem from social media rather than ‘direct traffic’ or any other source.
Of course, creating custom pages and forms is incredibly time-consuming. Therefore, having a social media management platform equipped with advanced measurement and tracking capabilities can significantly streamline the process, ensuring proper attribution of all your social traffic.
Oktopost allows you to effortlessly identify the impact of various content, networks, and campaigns on driving visitors to your website. It goes a step further by providing insights into conversions, opportunities, and closed deals originating from social sources. You can delve even deeper by measuring the performance of each specific social network, campaign, or content piece. This approach minimizes the occurrence of dark social, leading to a more accurate attribution of traffic, leads, and opportunities to your social efforts.
Goodbye Dark Social, Hello New Opportunities
Dark social poses challenges to marketing effectiveness, hindering accurate data collection and concealing valuable insights into audience preferences. To address this, incorporating UTMs for comprehensive traffic analysis, customizing important web pages for social sharing, and utilizing social listening tools to monitor brand mentions becomes crucial. By implementing these strategies, you can uncover valuable insights into both web traffic and customer conversations stemming from unattributed social activity.
Oktopost plays a pivotal role in simplifying this process. Through automated UTM creation, detailed analytics in social listening, and effective measurement of social media sources, Oktopost enables a seamless and integrated approach. This not only ensures precise measurements of success but also unveils hidden opportunities for meaningful engagement and lead generation. Experience the difference for yourself by reaching out to one of our experts!