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As it turns out, some people don’t want to share everything with everyone on social media. Sure there are still people who share every major moment with their networks on several channels; however, the rise of “dark social” is proof that people are moving away from sharing to the masses and sharing only with a select few.

So what is dark social? It is conversations and sharing that is selective, private and most important, away from public social sites and free from web tracking tools. Examples of dark social channels and outputs are private emails, text messages, private messaging apps, chat or instant messaging.

Is it the “new” social media?

This begs the question, is the next wave of social media actually more intimate and less “social”? Have too many people been invited to the party on the big, traditional channels (Facebook and Twitter) and the scene is getting old and, dare I say, uncool?

No, not necessarily. Traditional social media sharing sites are still a definite player and often the origin of the content that is shared on dark social channels. Dark social is just another channel in which people are sharing and receiving information. The difference is that the content shared on dark channels is highly relevant to the recipient because it likely contains topics of interest that is coming from a trusted source.

Sure, people can follow trusted sources on social media and get topics of interest, but dark social sharing is different. It is more personal; and it usually continues or relates to a topic of discussion or interest that already known and mutually shared by a group or individual recipient.

What it means for brands

Dark social proves to be a Catch-22 for brands. On one hand, if your content is shared on dark social channels, it is pretty much a guarantee that the consumer will interact with it in some way. The downside is that you can’t measure that engagement. It is like winning one million dollars but not being able to control how you can spend it.

What marketers do know is that when they see traffic coming to their website that is labeled as “direct” it means it is probably coming from one of these dark channels because it is even more improbable that people are typing the full URL to your content in their browser (i.e. what is the likelihood you will type out this URL in your browser? https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/10-things-keep-mind-before-getting-started-social-media-anna-lewis).

However, marketers may be able to see the origin of where the original consumer of content received the article if the URL has a tracking tag associated with it. A tracking tag is the series of letters and numbers that are added on to the end of a URL so analytic platforms like Google Analytics can distinguish traffic referrals, which allows marketers to see how content and channels are performing. You can tell if the URL has a campaign tag because it will include words like “campaign” or “ref” and even the medium for which you found the content, like Twitter. The tagging of URL varies by tracking systems and preferred naming convention of the person who sets up the tag.

How to make sure your content is king on dark social

This part is actually very simple, but not always easy.  All you have to do is create good, quality content. Of course using best practices in search engine marketing and optimization (SEM and SEO) will help get your content in front of the right people to begin with, but ultimately it is the power of your message that inspires someone to share it. Digital communications is just an advanced form of word of mouth communications. Create something people want to talk about.

Free Two Cents

  1. Create content that people want or need to know that is clear, concise and consistent (writing fundamentals!).
  2. Pay attention to where you are sharing your content and look closer at your data. Pay special attention to the channels that make it easy to share in the dark, like email marketing and social media. Often the people sharing on dark social get the content from accounts they are subscribing or following by first degree or a few degrees separated – their social network of influencers.



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