Dark Social

I must admit, when I first heard someone talk about ‘dark social’ I imagined it to be as mysterious and anonymous as the dark web. Turns out, dark social is a term used to describe website referrals that are challenging to track.

The referrals are difficult to track because web links are being sent privately via email, text message, instant messenger, or even mobile apps (Facebook, Instagram). On an analytics tool, any traffic from these sources would be marked as direct traffic.

It is therefore difficult for brands to understand this direct traffic and where the visitor has truly come from.

WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are classic examples of this. I have many social groups set up with family and friends and will regularly send links to online goods or information that I want to share with these groups.

Let me explain in more detail…As I am a keen snowboarder I am always on the lookout for affordable ski breaks. I stumbled across one the other day on Facebook and shared it with my ‘Ski’ group on WhatsApp. I am fairly sure all of the group would have clicked on that link, but the brand may not know how or why they came through to that web page.

And that is why they call it ‘Dark’ social.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Brands are beginning to shed light on these dark users. Share buttons are free plug-ins that support URL tracking through Google Analytics. The WhatsApp sharing button is being seen more commonly now and encourages the user to quickly share content with their WhatsApp groups.

However, a study by The Drum in 2017 showed that compared to social buttons, 87% of all shares are made through copy and paste direct from the address bar.

Unfortunately, there is no dark social filter on Google Analytics as of yet, but there is a way to potentially identify this group of visitors. By analysing your direct traffic and filtering out the simpler website URLs and referrer details, what is left over could be as a result of dark social traffic.

This is not fail safe though and some brands are employing staff and developing strategies to engage with their dark users.

Greggs Bakers launched a VIP WhatsApp group called Festive Bake Lovers. This group was for customers who wanted exclusive information on new launches. Greggs wanted to engage with influencers and be more in control of the dark social.

Adidas did something similar, launching Tango Squad. They engaged with a group of 16-19 year old football fans who were extremely active on instant messaging sites and gave them access to exclusive content and events. This enabled their micro influencers to be part of their wider marketing strategy.

As instant messaging becomes increasingly more popular (WhatsApp reported 1.5 billion users and 60 billion messages sent per day in January 2018) and the way we communicate in our digital world continues to change, brands will have to think outside of the box to continue to be part of their customer’s conversation.