Dark Social – The Underestimated Force Behind Social Media

Dark Social – The Underestimated Force Behind Social Media

By Hope Gorton

Social media has a dark side.

Dark social‘ has become something too big to ignore.

In fact, it is an integral part of content sharing and is a factor that should be considered by all brands.

Dark social, as explained by Outbrain’s first Rising Star Kane Reiken, is where consumers share social content via private communication devices, tools and apps such as email, IM, Snapchat and Whatsapp. It is the untraceable, untrackable network of content sharing that goes on all around us, outside of social networks.

Dark social is nothing new. The term, coined in 2012 by The Atlantic‘s Alexis C. Madrigal, describes what we all do on a daily basis; what many have been doing online since its rise in the 1990s. Sharing content through third party services was where sharing began, until the establishment of social networks like Facebook and Twitter publicised the activity.

At Your Fingertips

Branded dark social activity is the sort of content that only you will see (unless you show your screen to your friends).

Unsurprisingly, dark social represents over 75% of social sharing online – that’s a pretty big chunk! This is because consumers are more likely to share information and links in intimate ways, via apps and messaging tools, rather than updating their Facebook status.

As the majority of social activity is taking place on people’s mobile phones, dark social has become increasingly relevant. The variety of messaging apps that are available across increasingly affordable and reliable smartphones means that approximately 80% of social activity takes place on the go.

People are sharing the things they like with their phones, adding to the web of dark social, more than ever.

Things To Consider

Here are three things we think all brands, brand managers and social media buffs need to consider when dealing with dark social;

  • Quality Content

    People share the things they, or their friends and family, enjoy. Their advocacy is part of their social contract with the person they share to. That’s why only good content will be picked up and shared to a powerful audience. Powerful? Because your content is being recommended to them by someone who knows them well, they are likely to engage with your content.

  • Understand Your Audience

    Dark social has provided an opportunity for brands to refocus and achieve a stronger, in-depth understanding of their audience. Brands need to understand where and how their audience are consuming content and what they can do to target this potential audience.

  • Reporting

    Most brands will already have a reputable analytic measuring tool in place. The nature of dark social means brands will need to be more vigilant when pulling reports together. Dark social accounts for over half of online sharing so it’s important that brands overcome this challenge and tracking social data is done accurately.

Facebook’s Grip On Referrals

Recent social data from Chartbeat suggests that a lot of what was once considered dark social referrals is in fact traffic driven from the mobile Facebook app or mobile web browsers. What this tells us is that people are not giving enough credit to Facebook for their social referrals.

Regardless of where your dark social referrals are coming from, the only way to ‘game’ this system is to produce high quality content that people want to share.

However, with Facebook dominating the shareability of links across the web, optimising your strategy to make the most of the Western hemisphere’s largest social network will only serve to increase your dark social referrals.

Over To You

What do you think? How does dark social impact your social strategy?


This post was written by Hope Gorton

Hope is one of myclever™ Agency's Social Media Executives, working with clients and internally to manage successful social media campaigns.