top of page
  • Ishbel Macleod

How brands can utilise dark social

The rise of dark social

Over the past few years we’ve seen more and more people using dark social. In fact, according to GlobalWebIndex, 63% of consumers tend to share information using private messaging apps – compared with 54% who share on social media accounts.

Social media channels are aware of the growth of dark social and are growing this market: you only need to look at the recent launch of Instagram’s Threads app which allows messaging with ‘close friends’ only to see that.

With dark social accounting for more conversations, it can make it difficult for brands to accurately track brand mentions, discussions, and even sources driving ROI. So how can brands make sure they are not left behind?

What is dark social?

‘Dark social’ is a term coined by Alexis Madrigal in The Atlantic in 2012, to refer to the social sharing of content that can’t be accurately measured by analytics tools. Mostly, it happens when someone copy-pastes and sends a link on channels such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, a direct message or even an email, instead of sharing on an open social media platform.

Dark social in this context should not be confused with a ‘dark ad’, which can be the name given to an advert that is sponsored and will not appear organically on a timeline.

A spotlight on dark social: how brands can utilise this

Is dark social bad?

Not at all! The term just means that it is hidden from most analytics tools so is difficult to track. While it is frustrating to not be able to 100% accurately measure results, in general dark social means that more people will be talking about your brand than you know.

A study by GlobalWebIndex found that 50% of those who use dark social do so to share links to websites through dark social, while 45% share links to a product.

GlobalWebIndex: Dark Social stats

How can I tell how much traffic comes from dark social?

You know how to use Google Analytics to tell how much of your traffic comes from organic, social and even referrals – but how about dark social?

Most of the time, these sessions will appear as direct traffic: they have arrived directly on that page without anything occurring beforehand. While some people may indeed come directly to your website (for example, to a homepage or a page that has been bookmarked), there will be a host of direct visitors who have never been to your site before.

You can see this number on Google Analytics by going to Acquisition, then Channel. Click onto the direct traffic grouping, then click the secondary dimension on user type: this will allow you to see new v returning visitors. The new visitors are more than likely to have come from dark social.

How can brands utilise dark social?

With the use of dark social growing, some brands are keen to get involved – both in the creation and sharing of content. Here are a few ways to help utilise and track dark social.

1. Create communities

With entertainment one of the top reasons for sharing in a private group, it makes sense to play on this, and where possible create communities for dedicated fans. This could be across any channel: Facebook Groups and WhatsApp tend to be the most prevalent though.

Private Facebook Groups allow you to create dedicated communities which brands – and fans – can share content of interest and can help drive engagement and conversation.

This also works well with WhatsApp: but there is more of a need to limit number on this channel to prevent annoyance from constant notifications. Greggs used a WhatsApp group well a few years ago: they created a VIP group for Festive Bake Lovers which provided 250 pastry fans advanced notice of the festive bake launch (and receive goodies).

Greggs WhatsApp group for Festive Bake

2. Use dark social apps

If people are turning more towards private conversations, it makes sense that brands allow people to have private conversations with them.

We have definitely seen a rise in people contacting brands through DMs as opposed to through public posts, and this can be useful (especially if the conversation is negative: you want to keep that private!). ScotRail recently jumped on this trend, launching a WhatsApp customer service channel to allow people to message them (because let’s face it, there are only so many times you want to tweet to ask what’s up with the trains).

As well as WhatsApp, there are opportunities for other 1-2-1 social and instant messaging apps, including good old-fashioned DMs and Facebook Messenger. This can include the creation of bots to provide information or having a customer service team on standby.

3. Track links

While dark social is untraceable, using you can potentially reduce the number of untracked links by using UTM codes to tag your links.

If someone shares a tagged link (for example, sharing a tweet via DM, a Facebook post to WhatsApp, or just copy-pasting the full link from the page they landed on into a Facebook Messenger chat), then any referrals from the resulting clicks will count as coming from the original platform.



bottom of page