We live in an age when engagement rates are a form of currency, and social media is a massive part of our lifestyles. At first glance, social media seems to be the perfect way to connect with others and share information. With billions of social media users worldwide, it’s easy to see why this is the case.
Social media has connected people – and brands – in ways that were never possible before, and it shows no signs of slowing down. But there’s a more private aspect of social media that you might not be aware of. It’s called dark social.
So, what is dark social exactly? In short, dark social refers to the content shared through private channels that can’t be tracked. This includes direct messages, email, or even private social media groups.
While dark social may sound like a bad thing, there are several benefits to using it. For example, dark social can be a great way to build relationships with potential customers or clients. Additionally, it can be used to generate leads or sales without having to pay for advertising.
Dark social shows up in analytics platforms as “direct traffic.”
Direct traffic doesn’t have a referring source, such as a social media platform or search engine. In Google Analytics and similar platforms, this online traffic is lumped together and labeled as “direct.”
So, if you’re wondering why your analytics platform is showing a spike in direct traffic, it’s likely because of dark social.
Dark social traffic doesn’t have to come from social media apps, either. It can come from a variety of channels, including:
Social media groups
Instant messaging apps
Secure browsing sessions
Dark social can also be a significant source of referral traffic for websites and businesses. When used strategically, it will amplify your social media marketing efforts and help you reach a wider audience.
What’s the Deal With Dark Social?
So why is dark social important? For one, it could impact your business without you realizing it. Many businesses promote their content through public channels like social media or their website. But if you’re not also promoting through private channels, you could miss out on a big chunk of your potential audience.
Think about it this way: if you only promote your content through public channels, you’re only reaching the people who are already following you or stumble across your content by chance. But if you’re also promoting through private channels, you’re reaching people who are specifically interested in your content and are more likely to engage with it.
So how can you make sure you’re capitalizing on dark social? First, it’s essential to understand your traffic sources and how people find your content. If you see that a lot of your traffic is coming from direct sources (like people typing in your URL directly into their browser), that’s a good sign that dark social is playing a role. Increasing social shares will help you leverage dark social.
You can also encourage social sharing by making it easy for people to share your content privately. For example, you can add share buttons to your website or emails that make it easy for people to share your content with their friends or followers.
Overall, dark social can be a great way to reach new audiences and promote your content. By understanding how dark social works and using it to your advantage, you can ensure you’re getting the most out of your content marketing efforts.
Examples of Dark Social Media Channels
Dark social media channels might sound elusive, but they are more common than you think. To give you a better idea of what dark social entails, here are some examples of channels that will probably sound familiar to you:
Facebook accounts for many dark social posts. People can share links, videos, and other content through Facebook Messenger with their friends or followers. Messenger allows user agents to create groups so they can share content with multiple people at once.
Private Facebook groups are also a form of dark social, as people can share content with a specific group of people. These are great for niche communities or businesses who want to build a following around a specific topic.
Instagram has a direct messaging feature that allows people to share content with friends or followers. People can also share content through “Close Friends” Instagram Stories, viewable only by people who are added to an exclusive list.
Private Instagram accounts are another form of dark social since they can only be viewed by people approved by the account owner. These are great for businesses or influencers who want to build a more personal relationship with their audience.
Some influencers make their accounts private so that people have to follow them to see their content. This might sound counterproductive at first. However, it helps them build their following — when people share their content, only people who follow them can see it. Non-followers become curious about what they’re missing out on and are likelier to follow the account to see just one post.
TikTok has a direct messaging feature that allows people to share content with friends or followers. Innately, TikTok is a dark social media platform as users watch content recommended to them by friends rather than through public channels like the “For You” page.
However, TikTok also has a public-facing element in the form of hashtags. By adding relevant hashtags to their content, users can make their content discoverable to people who are interested in that topic.
TikTok gained popularity by setting up a system that allows users to download watermarked videos and share them on other social media platforms. This gave TikTok a way to reach new audiences and get its content in front of people who might not have found it otherwise.
TikTok videos can even end up on dark social channels like WhatsApp if they’re popular enough. Users will share them with friends and followers who might not have TikTok, allowing them to view the content through WhatsApp.
The traffic generated through shared TikTok content may be visible in the form of profile views, but the source of the profile view is not trackable.
WhatsApp is a messaging app by Meta that allows people to share text, photos, videos, and other content with their contacts. These direct messages are private and can’t be seen by anyone else. Although WhatsApp might seem like just a messaging platform, it is considered a social media network because of its sharing features.
Like other dark social channels, WhatsApp is a great way to share content with friends and followers without it being tracked. However, WhatsApp also has a group feature.
WhatsApp groups are like private Facebook groups, but they can only be seen by people who are added to the group. These groups are perfect for businesses, teams, or communities who want to share content without it being public.
How To Embrace Dark Social
Ready to put your new dark social knowledge into practice? Here are a few ways to harness the power of dark social for your brand:
1. Consider Using Link Shorteners
If you’re sharing outbound links through dark social channels, you may want to consider using a URL shortener. This way, you can track how many people are clicking on your links and see which dark social channels are generating the most traffic.
For example, the popular URL shortener Bitly allows users to track how many people click on their URL links and where those clicks are coming from. This information can be helpful in understanding which dark social channels are most effective for promoting your content.
2. Add Share Buttons
Make it easy for people to share your content by adding share buttons to your website or emails. With these, people can quickly share your content with their friends or followers without having to copy and paste a link.
You can add share buttons to specific pieces of content or have them appear on every page of your website. Many social media platforms offer share buttons that can be easily embedded on websites so people can share your content directly to their social media accounts.
In addition to share buttons, you can choose to show share counts on your pages or articles. These numbers will show visitors how many times your page has been shared. This can encourage people to share your content once they see how popular it is.
3. Learn From Other Social Platforms
Look at how other social media platforms are using dark social to their advantage. For example, Snapchat has “My Story” which can only be viewed by people who are added to your contacts list (as long as you have a private profile).
By learning the ins and outs of each platform, you can find inspiration for how you can make your content more exclusive and engaging.
In addition to hiring social media experts, you can teach yourself about social media by reading articles, watching tutorials, or taking courses. These resources will give you the skills and knowledge you need to create a social media strategy for your business, or to collaborate more effectively with a team of strategists working for your brand.
Another one of the best ways to learn about dark social is to experiment with it yourself. Try out different sharing methods and see what works best for your brand. With a little trial and error, you’ll be able to harness the power of dark social to reach a wider audience.
How Can You Benefit From It?
While dark social may seem a little daunting at first, there are a lot of benefits to using it to promote your content. Here are a few ways you can benefit from dark social:
1. Increase Mobile Traffic
Mobile traffic refers to the number of people visiting your website or using your app from a mobile device. By leveraging dark social, you can increase your mobile traffic.
People are likelier to share content on their mobile devices than on their desktop computers. Social media app usage is on the rise, which means more people are using their phones to access social media platforms.
2. Reach Different Audiences
You can use dark social posts to reach different audiences that you might not be able to through public channels. Private channels allow you to share content with specific groups of people, which can help you target your content more effectively.
For example, if you’re a B2B company, you might use dark social to share content with potential customers or partners. Or, if you’re a B2C company, you might use dark social to share content with your most loyal customers.
Social media algorithms are constantly changing, which can make it challenging to reach your target audience. By using dark social, you can bypass these algorithms and reach the people who are most likely to be interested in your content.
3. Source for Marketing Success
Dark social is not generally thought of as a way to generate leads or customers. However, it can be a valuable source for marketing success.
If you can track the dark social traffic to your website or app, you can use that data to inform your marketing decisions and see what’s working well. You can track it using UTM codes or by setting up conversion tracking in Google Analytics.
You can use dark social data to see which pieces of content are being shared the most and adjust your marketing strategy accordingly. You can also use the data to see what times of day people are most likely to share your content and adjust your posting schedule accordingly.
Join the Dark Side
Dark social can be a great way to reach new audiences and promote your content. By understanding how dark social works and using it to your advantage, you can ensure you’re getting the most out of your content marketing efforts.
As part of our holistic omnichannel platform, AUDIENCEX offers an integrated solution for search and social that provides a seamless strategy for your business. Whether developing targeted content, balancing organic and paid efforts, or executing an effective dark social media strategy, our team can help you take your content marketing to the next level.
To learn more about how our expert strategists can help you boost your performance on social channels, or throughout the full digital landscape, reach out today for a free consultation.