Three Ways to See in the Dark

6 Jun 2019 / Freeparking Team

Once upon a time when the internet was young, sharing content was easy and everyone did it. In those innocent days it was easy for marketers to shine a spotlight on what content was creating buzz and all was bright and shiny, but the days of the light would not last.

In a recent 2019 survey byWeAreSocial in association with GlobalWebIndex,  Dark Social has risen to the most popular method of sharing information. 63% of all sharing is now dark compared with 54% shared on open sharing platforms.

But what is Dark Social? Why are so many users heading to the dark side and how can marketers track them?

Dark Social was a phrase coined in a 2012 The Atlantic article that referred to shared social media that was dark to social media trackers. Back in 2012 users would typically utilise the social sharing buttons to share links on social media, and it was easy to track what content was creating buzz, but this open-for-all-to-see type of sharing wouldn’t last as messaging apps and Chatbots became increasingly popular and concerns about privacy increased.

Do you do dark social? 

Yes, you probably do. Remember that cool article about the GOT ending you saw the other day, the one you sent to your other half? Instead of sharing it to their social media profile via a social sharing button, you copy and pasted the link into your Facebook Messenger chat. Congratulations! You’ve danced on the dark side. You haven’t done anything wrong but when the publication’s marketer analyses the sharing data for their website your copied and pasted link will be marked as direct traffic and not with a referral tag. They will have no idea that you shared that information and as more people go dark, the marketer’s analytical role becomes increasingly challenging, though not impossible.

Here are three ways you can shine a light on the dark side.

1. Landing pages

First and most obvious is to develop a specific landing page and publicise that URL on a specific social media channel. For example, you might set up a landing page and publicise it specifically on Facebook, but nowhere else. If you see a dramatic increase in page visits, then you can be relatively confident that traffic has originated from Facebook. Specific visits may have come a long and winding road via a messenger app, but the origination should be clearly marked as from Facebook.

2. Google Analytics Filters

Although Google Analytics doesn’t (yet) track dark social it does track direct traffic, and through that big category in GA you can observe dark social traffic. Set up your Google Analytics to exclude easy (and familiar) page slugs, such as /blog, /home, /contact and the remaining longer and more difficult to remember URLs, will be shared privately through cut and paste. It is difficult to remember and share these longer links, so they are more likely to be cut and pasted. This method is not fail-proof, but it is the most popular way of seeing dark social traffic and the easiest to set up in Google. For more information on how to set this up in Google Analytics check out this page onSocial Media Examiner.

3. Get Tagging

Another easy way to get a good overview of where your website traffic is coming from and what is coming in via dark social sharing, is to tag all your pages. Google now helpfully offers a Tag Manager which can help you track all the tags from promotions and specific pages. But what is a tag? A tag (UTM) is code that sits at the end of a link address and identifies where that link was shared from and the traffic source. It can also identify the campaign medium whether it be an ad, blog post, banner, or Facebook campaign etc.Google Tag Managerworks not only for Google tags but also for all third-party tags.

There is no doubt that dark social sharing is increasing but thankfully so too are ways of managing and tracking this previously un-trackable activity. There is a plethora of new tracking solutions from heavy hitters like Radium One emerging, though they are expensive. Smaller businesses can, by trying one of these three basic ways of counting dark social sharing, learn to see in the dark.

 By Vicki Jeffels
Vicki has been writing about the web since Adam was boy and used to access the information superhighway via dialup. As well as writing for the Freeparking Team, Vicki lectures in Digital Marketing and is the Managing Director of Digital Discussions.


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