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Dark Social: What Stats are Lurking in the Shadows?

Have you ever heard of ‘dark social‘? It sounds ominous, perhaps even malicious. But don’t worry – it’s not some evil machination of the internet conspiring against you or your business. Dark social, as first explained by Alexis Madrigal (a senior editor at The Atlantic), is the harder-to-measure data that shows how content is shared online.

 

Content Gets Around – But Can it All be Tracked?

Think of it this way – you find a cool article about Elon Musk calling for a moon base – whoa! That’s so cool! Gotta share that with the friends. You click the ‘share’ button and post it to Facebook. For Space.com (or any website), a Facebook share is easy to track. But then you remember you’ve got a friend who’s crazy about space travel – but they don’t have a Facebook. So you email them the link. When Space.com checks the analytics for their article, they’ll see a certain percentage attributed to social media shares. Then there’s this other category – an even larger percentage than social media – it’s vague, and it’s typically labeled ‘Direct.’ The email you just sent falls into that category. Same thing goes for instant messages, text messages, and native mobile apps like Facebook. Enter the world of dark social – web traffic without a known source/referrer.

 

According to Techopedia,

The prevalence of sharing through dark social suggests that social media marketing that fails to focus on the type and quality of content may be overlooking a huge portion of social sharing.

 

Content shared via dark social channels is pretty much one big lump of data as far as web analytics goes. Working with the web analytics firm Chartbeat, Alexis jumped in to get a breakdowofor The Atlantic’s sources of traffic. This is what they found:

Dark Social Stats

Image Source: http://theatln.tc/2meGl34

That’s HUGE! You might never have heard of dark social, but it’s super important to be aware of. Those stats are just for The Atlantic, too. For mobile sharing in general, it’s been reported that dark social is responsible for 84{2869b4d23c008b413905409cba06ef793120d76f1e6c5c92f0f4cb5a7ec0d5a3} of outbound sharing. The numbers are too big to ignore.

For a very in-depth exploration of dark social, check out RadiumOne’s white paper on “The Dark Side of Mobile Sharing.”

 

My Head is Spinning – Can I Track Dark Social?

So, can you accurately track this stuff? Well, not easily. It’s not a matter of poor analytics or anything – it’s just that referral data doesn’t always hop along for the ride when a link gets shared. Take email, for instance – your privacy rights dictate that referral data doesn’t come along. With secure browsing (HTTPS), referrer data doesn’t get transmitted if you shift to an HTTP site. Still, there are ways to customize your analytics to track parts of it for more accurate measurements.

 

So, What’s the Takeaway from All of This?

It really boils down to this – with great content brings comes great traffic. Sometimes you can’t always accurately gauge how your visitors got to your site, but you can control the quality of the content you’re putting out there. Good content is interesting. Great content is engaging, informative and fun – and that’s exactly what we do at Big Slate Media. If you’re ready to rock your next social media campaign, we would love to be a part of it. Give us a call at (865) 291-0005 or contact us online and we’ll get the ball rolling!

Big Slate Media Team