Digital Marketing terms explained: What is Dark Social?
We continue with our series on explaining digital marketing terms and ideas that you may have heard of, but are not sure what they are exactly. Today's focus is on the mysterious and aptly named 'Dark Social'.
When you search for a product or service on Google and are led to a company's website or if you discover a link on a public channel like say Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook, marketers can analyse your online activity and know what brought you to their website. A wealth of information is available via analytics that tells companies more about the referrer. But a lot of times, information about the referrer is unavailable and this traffic generated via private channels is called ‘Dark Social’.
Traffic that comes via these sources is often classified as ‘direct’ traffic and analytics tools are therefore unable to track their true origin. Direct traffic is actually a term used when someone comes directly to a website site of their own accord, by typing a URL into the address bar or clicking on a bookmark they’ve saved.
But today, we discover products we love via private messaging channels like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp and get recommendations via email and text messages. For instance, your friend may send you a link via WhatsApp asking you to check out a lovely summer dress you must buy, or your colleague emails you a list of hotel websites to host your company offsite, and each of these messages could lead to a sale. Now, this information is incredibly valuable to marketers and business owners who use analytics to understand who their audience is and what brought them to their website. However such ‘word of mouth’ activity via private channels is not tracked - making it a part of ‘Dark Social.’
Here are some channels responsible for dark social traffic:
- Native mobile apps like Facebook and Instagram
- Information shared via personal or official email accounts
- Messaging apps like WhatsApp, Hike, WeChat, Facebook Messenger, Telegram etc.
- Secure browsing: If users click on an HTTPS link the referrer won’t be passed on
Dark Social has begun to account for a very large share of traffic online. For instance, RadiumOne estimates that 84% of consumers’ outbound sharing from publishers’ and marketers’ websites now takes place via private, Dark Social channels such as email and instant messaging. This poses a problem. Because the more you know about your traffic, the better you understand how your site is performing. If 25% of your sales are coming in from sources falsely classified as ‘direct’, you have very little context or intelligence about this data, making it harder for you to take action based on this information.
But you can still make educated guesses about Dark Social. For instance, if the URL is very long and complicated you can assume that it wasn’t typed out by the user. Or you can make sharing via social very easy with large, visible sharing buttons to WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and embed a tracking code to the link for more accurate reporting - so that over time you have more knowledge about user behaviour to optimise your digital marketing strategy.
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Preeti Prakash | Journalist