• “Dark social” refers to social media activity (the sharing of content) outside of traditional channels or sharing utilities
  • A large percentage of social sharing is dark, so that its referring source cannot be tracked
  • This post shares three tips for understanding dark social as an indicator of content effectiveness

Dark social. Sounds sinister, right? Actually, its real meaning is a wonderful reaffirmation that Internet users crave the ability to interact and share – especially when they find information useful or entertaining. They just don’t always share in ways we expect them to.

Dark SocialThe term “dark social” was coined in 2012 by Alexis Madrigal, a senior editor at The Atlantic, to refer to social media activity (the sharing of content) that occurs outside of traditional channels or sharing utilities. Think about the piece of content you discovered that made such an impact. You took time out of your day to send a direct email to your family, friends or coworkers with a direct link to the content.

The good news: Wow! That content made an impact!

The bad news: The content originator, community manager or other custodian of the original source won’t have an accurate representation of its popularity, and will have a difficult time understanding whether it fulfilled a knowledge requirement or influenced movement through a buying process. Because you chose to share the link through direct email, chat window, carrier pigeon or other medium outside the realm of Web-tracking analytics, it’s invisible. It’s a missed opportunity for gauging the level of the content’s effectiveness and virality. The digital advertising company RadiumOne reported in 2014 that nearly 70 percent of social sharing is dark – i.e. its referring source cannot be tracked.

As B2B marketers become more sophisticated in originating and seeding content, as well as enabling peer interaction through social communities, it’s critically important that they understand what is and isn’t working – to understand how specific audiences react to certain types of content, and to build a business case for originating new content.

Here are three tips for shining a light on dark social:

  • My friend, the query string parameter. Use query strings in referring links to give you clues about the referring source. A referring source with a traffic level that widely exceeds its typical reach can help you start to identify the dark sharers and whether you need to take steps to further analyze the traffic. Not every URL shortening service will pass query string parameters, so make sure yours does!
  • Don’t make it hard to share. Understand your audience members and the types of content they’re likely to share, and make it easy for them! Lengthy preview text that needs to be rewritten and clumsy share utilities that don’t work will force your users to the dark side!
  • Are you mobile? Many believe that mobile app referrals make up a substantial portion of their dark social traffic. If you’re invested in a mobile app presence, take steps to configure your social tracking and listening tools to recognize and attribute mobile app referrals.

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