When using your favorite web analytics tool, you may have noticed a giant bucket of ‘direct’ traffic and caught yourself thinking, what is this? Are that many people really typing in “simplymeasured.com/blog/paperlessmarketingblogpost” into their browser? If it seems unlikely, that’s because it is.  A large portion of this traffic is actually dark social.

What In The World Is Dark Social?

For those of you like me, who love looking at their page’s analytics you may find this information about dark social frightening.  However, dark social is much less sinister than the name implies. The term “dark social,” was coined in 2012 by editor Alexis C. Madrigal in The Atlantic, and refers to Web traffic that can’t be tracked through Web analytics programs.

Imagine this scenario: You’re at work and your bored out of your mind. You go on Facebook, being sure to angle your monitor slightly more towards you to avoid being seen by your boss. You find out that there is an event going on this weekend in downtown New Bern, and, wishing to share this information with a friend, you copy the URL in the browser and paste it into the messenger app.

Congratulations, you’ve just engaged in a “dark social” act.

People are sharing links just like this every day, and now that private messaging apps such as WhatsApp or Snapchat are entering the mix the behavior is increasing. Think about it: you find an interesting article, then you simply copy and past the link into a messaging app and hit send.

Three Dark Social Channels.

Email – Email is the most prominent dark social channel and is thought to be the most powerful. Email providers such as Gmail, Yahoo and Outlook do not pass on the referer tag in order to protect the users privacy. It’s why some companies will use the back end tools some email marketing programs such as, MailChimp & ConstantContact provide. They have an option for using UTM codes as a way to track performance of custom campaigns from their origination point.

Mobile Apps. Like the scenario above shows, similar to email, mobile apps like Facebook Messenger & Snapchat also do not pass along a refer tag.

Text Messages (or SMS). One of the most underrated and overlooked dark social channels is text messages (or SMS). Why?  Because this is channel doesn’t have to be dark. There is an easy correction for it. Add a link with an SMS scheme!

So What?

A study recently released by RadiumOne reveals that the dark social sharing factor may be too big to ignore. The study estimates that ~70% of social shares are dark.


Think about that for a second. As a business owner, social selling sustains and amplifies your efforts, and it turns out you can’t even see that it’s happening?!?

Imagine if Google Ad Words didn’t know about 70% of their effective keywords! This can reduce your ability to increase traffic from sources that are paying off for your efforts (i.e increasing ROI). And ultimately, it can lessen your success in growing your customer base and increase your profits. 

This may be particularly significant for you if your target audience consists of those ages 55 and older. According to RadiumOne’s research, 46 percent of consumers 55 and older only share via dark social, as opposed to those in the 16-34 age group, where only 19 percent do so. In addition, some industries are more affected than others. For example, if your business is in personal finance, food and drink, travel or executive search, more than 70 percent of social sharing is done through dark social.

There are so many places where it makes more sense to share 1:1 instead of 1:many, and many times when a private forum is more appropriate. That doesn’t mean this sharing isn’t social! It absolutely is and you need to be able to understand it to both prove and improve the total efficacy of your efforts.

So I’ll Ask Again, Are You Afraid Of The Dark?

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