Dark social. It sounds so ominous, like a mixer for Slytherin or a Halloween OPI nail color, but in reality it’s a term all savvy marketers should learn if they want to know the true reach and impact of their content.
Coined by The Atlantic’s Alex Madrigal in 2012, dark social is content that is shared over a private communication channel – think email, Gchat, text message – and isn’t tracked by analytics software. Most of us share this way on a daily basis (coughBuzzfeedarticlescough), but the act never had a name. So just how prevalent is dark social and why is it important for marketers in 2015?
A report from RadiumOne in 2014 shed some light (no puns) on the size and impact of dark social on website visits. The study found that dark social constitutes nearly 70% of sharing activity – three times the amount of Facebook. Even more surprising, 32% of people ONLY share information via dark social – a number large enough that insights from how they share could completely change a brand’s content strategy. And since URL tagging is often dropped in the process of dark social sharing, frequently lumping the traffic in the “direct” bucket in analytics, brands are currently blind to the impact of privately shared content. This problem has been exasperated by the rise of mobile apps for social sharing sites. Studies have found inconsistency in the way referring URLs are tagged from sources as large as Facebook and Reddit’s mobile applications when they are shared, making it difficult to make informed decisions about what content is and isn’t working.
So how do you start to uncover details about your content that is being shared darkly and put an action plan in place?
- Compare traffic surges in real-time: This is an easy place to start. When taking a look in your analytics, see if there is a noticeable jump in direct traffic – does it coincide with a new piece of content that you released on Facebook/Twitter? Though we are in the age of programmatic tools and analytics software that make in-depth reports with the touch of a button, this takes some good ole’ fashion detective work. However, by regularly doing this content/traffic analysis, you can begin to uncover the content that is having an impact outside of “in the light” channels.
- Use link shorteners: Many brands already do this, and it is a quick step to begin to decode dark social. By making links that are a) more easily shared and b) can mask the more descriptive parts of a traditional URL that might normally make people shy to share in the open, shortened links not only provide sharablity but trackablity.
- Know how your audience communicates. The younger the potential customer, the more likely they are shying away from sharing anything from or to traditional networks that track their behavior. As more millennials and younger are trading links via text and WhatsApp, brands will continue to see their dark social traffic rise and must adjust to fit with the times. Surprisingly, the RadiumOne study also found that baby boomers are a large contributor to dark social, as they tend to share over email and have less of an established social prescence. No matter your audience, ensuring you are reaching them in the correct way via the correct channels is not more important than ever.
- Run content through the “would I share this with my mom/boss” filter: The cause of a lot of dark social is uncomfortably with sharing content with a wide audience. RadiumOne found that the categories with the most dark social sharing include arts & entertainment, careers, travel and religion/spirituality. Many of these make sense –people don’t want to share that they are looking for new jobs on their social profiles, or their views on a particular issue that has a religious bent for the entire world to see. Keep this in mind when planning your content strategy – it may fit your brand/style to something risqué or possibly offensive, but in doing so you might drive the sharablity of your content underground and have to dig to see its impact.
Dark social will continue to be a force brands have to deal with, especially as privacy is colliding head on with new methods of tracking potential consumers. To stay ahead, brands must ensure they have an integrated marketing plan that takes into account non-traditional social networks and communication methods and a dedication to analyzing each piece of the marketing mix they utilize, all while staying flexible to the ever changing avenues of communication. If you are looking for help in these areas, BLASTmedia can get you started.
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