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Dark Social Marketing - What's The Secret?

Dark social is a growing trend that can no longer be ignored as more people choose to socially share content on private platforms. It's great to boast holiday snaps on Facebook or share the latest viral YouTube video on Twitter, but not everyone wants every conversation over social media broadcast to the world.


Shedding light on dark social

The term ‘dark social’ was coined in 2012 by Alexis C. Madrigal, a senior contributing editor at The Atlantic, an American commentary magazine. The term refers to the social sharing of content that occurs outside of what can be measured by web analytics programmes (Techopedia)

Madrigal first used the term in an article called "Dark Social: We Have The Whole History of the Web Wrong."

He coined ‘Dark Social’ when analysing The Atlantic’s web traffic and discovering that ‘direct’ traffic (to pages with long and complicated URLs) were probably referred via a social channel, but there was no way of telling where from.

This is a problem for many online business today: not knowing where traffic is being referred from, and therefore not knowing how effective their marketing channels are. 

The Light and Dark of Social Sharing study revealed that 74% of social sharing now occurs via dark social platforms, i.e. not publically, but instead via email and instant messaging such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger etc.

This means that tracking is now more important than ever. If organisations want to know who is reading their content and count clicks and conversion rates, URL tracking needs to be in place, or else all these privately shared links will just appear as direct traffic.

Knowing where your clicks are coming from is an excellent insight to the market and your audience, so be sure to track URLs using programmes such as Google, or Hubspot. This is especially important when running a campaign, as without knowing where custom and interest is being generated, it is hard to truly measure a campaign's success.


Secret Social Apps

Dark social has become more prevalent since the likes of 'secret' social apps like Snapchat and Whisper gained popularity. Or as Digiday writer John McDermott put it, "Anonymity is the new black in social apps". 

The recent nomination trend on Facebook of sharing your first ever profile picture proved cringe inducing, especially for Millenials who first opened a Facebook account in their early teens. But the beauty of apps like Snapchat is that your embarrassing past can be erased. 

While customers are less likely to share links via video-based social apps like Snapchat, it serves as a window to the future as the app has been in the top 20 downloads for over a year now. It is not just a flash in the pan and indicates that people enjoy sharing in a non-traceable fashion.

Making encryption tracable

Earlier this year, Prime Minister David Cameron proposed banning the encryption of social messaging, stating that there should be "no means of communication" which "we cannot read".

The communication he is referring to is dark social: WhatsApp, Snapchat and iMessage. Cameron's concern with encrypted data is about surveillance and anti-terrorism measures. Allowing the government to "spy" on internet communications is going to pose many questions on whether we are entering a 'Big Brother' society.

But luckily for those of us involved in digital marketing campaigns, we don't need the government to shine a light on dark social to see where traffic is coming from. Simply tracking URLs to indicate what platform they have been opened from and tracing where they originated from is enough to indicate which elements of a campaign are successful.

So unless you want to be left in the dark, make sure all your URLs are tracked using software from the likes of Google and to keep tabs on your social marketing campaigns.