Everything you need to know about DARK SOCIAL

If you are wondering that the term ‘Dark Social’ refers to some kind of gathering of supernatural beings, we’ll forgive you. It’s not your fault! The term dark social does give a lot of eerie feel to everyone.

Even in the world of social media, this is nothing less than creepy.

In simple terms, it refers to social sharing that cannot be tracked. Let’s dig more deep into this.


Imagine the below instances:

a) You are scrolling through Facebook & come across an article named, “10 things you should do with your BFFs before you turn 30”. What do you usually do? Read it, copy the link of the article & share the same on your group chat on Whatsapp.

b) Birthday coming? And you share the link of your favourite pair of shoes with your Girlfriend, just to drop a few hints.

c) Need a vacation and reading about “20 places to visit with your family during the coming long weekend”? What do you do? You send an email to your dad!

If you have noticed, the one thing common in the aforementioned instances is the privacy of sharing the content. If you are indulging in anything like this, then that can be termed as ‘Dark Social’. These are just a few ways through which one draws a line between his/her public and private life, even on virtual media.

Think about it: you find an interesting read, you simply copy & paste the link onto an instant messaging app and share it. Thousands and millions of people do the same every day, sending a lot of traffic to the publishers.

Dark Social

Social media these days has gone beyond just the usual socialization on these various media platforms.



– Facebook                                                                   – Whatsapp

– Twitter                                                                        – Messages / iMessages

– Google Plus                                                               – Hangout Chats

– Pinterest                                                                    – Skype

– Instagram                                                                  – Emails

– LinkedIn                                                                    – Snapchat

– YouTube                                                                   – Other Instant Messaging Apps

But have you ever wondered to which category this traffic belongs to: Search, Social, Referral or Direct?

Web Traffic

If you are a social marketer and have ever needed to dig into your website’s traffic report, you might have noticed that a major chunk falls under the category of ‘direct’ traffic.

To figure out in detail about that category, one need to first understand what actually Direct Traffic is.

Direct Traffic corresponds to situations when a visitor arrives directly on a website rather than through a link on a web page. Under such a scenario, the access could be because of the below mentioned three sources:

a) Access by an email link

b) Access by typing the entire URL in the address bar

c) Access by a bookmark

But, do you think there are many people actually typing out the entire URL into their browser to reach your website?

Well, the truth is that a large portion of your direct traffic is actually dark social since it comes from untrackable referrals, unless it was copied originally with the tag included or the UTM code attached to the link.


  • Messaging Apps like Whatsapp, WeChat, Snapchat, Facebook Messenger
  • Emails
  • Native Mobile Apps like Facebook & Instagram
  • Secured Browsers like Google Chrome’s incognito mode


According to the RadiumOne study, 84% of consumers’ outbound sharing from publishers’ websites now takes place via private, Dark Social channels such as email and instant messaging.

The content sharing percentage through these private channels is too huge to be ignored. Another pointer to be considered while analysing the entire dark social activities is that more than 60% of sharing is done through mobile devices.

Dark Social

When we say that 84% of sharing happens via dark social, we also need to understand the value of this kind of traffic from the business perspective.

For example: If you find a product online that your friend was looking for but at a lower price, and you email that link to her, there is a very less chance that this won’t get converted.

Therefore, Dark social traffic like any other traffic is extremely valuable. This can also be termed as another way of ‘word-of-mouth’, which is more likely to yield results for you in the longer run.

So, one should always keep in mind that dark social shares can actually prove to be fruitful for your business. As these links that are shared usually come from trusted sources (friends & family), their click rate is also high. Imagine if your best friend or a family member sends you a link saying, “This is so you” or “I could only think of you after reading this”, chances are you’ll immediately open that link out of curiosity & also because you trust the source.

Further digging deep, below are a few reasons why marketers shouldn’t ignore Dark social:

  1. It’s everywhere

The majority of Dark Social sharing happens through mobile devices. More that 60% of click backs on dark social sharing is coming from mobile devices.

  1. Huge impact on direct traffic

According to the RadiumOne study, outbound sharing has drastically increased from 69% to 84% in just one year.

  1. An opportunity that cannot be ignored.

The data highlighting the dark social sharing insights would be a treat for all brands. This data would genuinely showcase the real interests of the audience they cater to. Marketers should find ways & techniques to measure the same without loosing out on this great opportunity.

  1. Interesting Insights

According to RadiumOne’s research, 46 percent of consumers age 55 and older share only via dark social, as opposed to those in the 16-34 age group, where only 19 percent do so.

  1. Difficulty in analysing the efficacy of the social media advertising.


It is a huge challenge for marketers/brands to tackle & track dark social sharing. One cannot fully track dark social traffic, but there are few ways through which one can atleast narrow things down. It is believed that for every 3 people reaching your site via social, a further 7 will be arriving from ‘dark social’, which will appear as direct.

Here’s how marketers can try decreasing Dark Social activities –

  1. Start using trackable codes to the URLs shared on Social Media

The most common of all is the UTM code. It is a code to track the performance of a particular campaign from the origin point where the link was shared.

A link with a UTM code looks like this – http://www.solomomedia.com/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=solmed

  1. Use Shortened URLs

When sharing content on other platforms, use a shortened link instead. Combine those trackable codes aka UTM to the link & then create a shortened URL. These are not only easy to copy & paste but also gives information about the origination of the link.

  1. Track Copy & Paste Activity

You all must have observed instances when you paste a text that has been copied from a website; an add-on link comes with it automatically. Get hold of a tool, a plugin or code that can be added to your website manual to help gain a clearer picture of the source of your Dark social traffic.

  1. Make Sharing Easy
    To encourage people share the content via proper channels, one should include highly visible sharing buttons on the webpage including the UTM parameters. The add-on of the UTM parameter helps us in tracking the same.

In short, the sharing buttons should be easily accessible to the user so that instead of just copying the URL, he makes use of those buttons.

These easy simple steps will help in giving few deeper insights about the dark social traffic. This in turn might help you use the data in your own advantage.


There is no point being afraid of this dark world! Start analysing & measuring it by adopting new methods. The first one being the usage of the UTM code to the links you share. This way atleast the people visiting your website aren’t really escaping the referrals.

Driven by the rise of chat or mobile focused instant messaging apps, researchers suggest a growing percentage of online sharing which will be ‘dark’.

The bottom line is, ‘Dark Social’ is not so dark after all, it is just something that is widespread. So much so that it is not only about your return on investment, but also a return on content. Make every piece of content yours! Once that is sorted, you need not worry about where your content has been shared.

Lastly, like mentioned earlier in our article, people these days are trying to draw a line between what they share publicly & in specific groups. With the growing dynamics, there are ways that will help you to fight against dark social. Just don’t get lost in the dark!



One comment

  1. anol · April 18, 2017

    nice article and interesting facts to know about #DARK SOCIAL