Dark Social isn’t as sinister as the name might suggest. The term, first coined by Alexis C Madrigal, tech editor at Atlantic.com in 2012, describes web traffic that comes from sources traditional web analytics are unable to track. Just think how often you copy a link to an email, or instant message into a forum and you will get an idea of what it is and how powerful it can be in disseminating information.
The research came in the form of a study carried out by advertising software company, Radium One. The company looked at data from a recent online social sharing survey of more than 9,000 consumers, combined with an analysis of their own sharing data, to produce a snapshot of where and how we share content online. (I should point at this stage that Radium One does offer a tool to measure Dark Social however, as I haven’t used it this post shouldn’t be considered as an endorsement of their product).
This headline, finding that more than two-thirds of shares were “dark” might come as a surprise. Dig a little deeper though and the numbers of consumers who share outside of the main social platforms might also raise a few eyebrows.
That’s a pretty overwhelming percentage of the online population who share on the dark side; take a look at this next graphic which shows that almost a third of us (and nearly half of over 55s) who only share via Dark Social.
This doesn’t surprise me at all, what about you? Think about your own behavior when it comes to consuming content and when it comes to sharing it. Think about the behavior of your customers and your prospective customers. In spite of the fact that I have a huge personal digital footprint, for every one thing I share publicly in social media channels, there are countless other things that I share via email, or through Facebook Messenger, or via IM or text message. And I can’t even begin to count the number of shares I get from others through those same channels.
One tool we have been using for a long time is Tynt, which lets you track where your sharing takes place. Our Tynt data has consistently shown that our corporate blog content (and that of our clients’) is shared more regularly by email than it is through any other channel. Here’s a snippet of a daily report I get from Tynt to show you what I’m talking about:
I find the behavior of the different age demographics interesting. More than twice the proportion of over 55s share only via dark social than the Millennial group. Does this suggest that the influence of dark sharing will wane as the population ages? Maybe the prevalence of mobile usage, where it’s not so straightforward to copy and paste a link, has an impact here. I’m not sure, but it will be fascinating to monitor how this trend develops.
Should marketers and CIOs be concerned about this phenomenon? The study revealed that when it comes to clickbacks, dark social accounts for just 16 percent of the worldwide total. While the volumes, therefore, are still low, there are two other factors to take into account:
- A link sent via a personalized message, rather than by a public channel, is more likely to be perceived as relevant to the recipient.
- National, regional and content category differences may tip the balance in favor of the dark side as these graphics from the report illustrate.
Short and branded URLs
The research also took a look at the influence of something that most marketers have long recognized the benefits of–shortened and branded URLs. The ability to turn long links into short and measurable links offers advantages to marketers that make them attractive in all types of campaigns. The report authors, however, suggest that very few use the resulting data effectively in their digital marketing campaigns. This is where your internal tech teams could play a role when it comes to data collection and analysis, by working with marketing teams to make sure they are taking this data, in the proper context, into consideration as they develop and fine-tune their marketing strategies and assess the efficacy of their campaigns.
As with dark social sharing, the effectiveness of short URLs appears to vary greatly depending on sector and location. Branded short URLs in particular can show a huge increase in the number of clickbacks in brand sensitive sectors. Take sports as an example as shown in this graphic.
Branding a URL has uplift in all areas, but particularly in an area where consumers are hungry for content from a brand that they follow and trust. Considerable food for thought for brands with a strong presence who aren’t yet picking up on this potential traffic.
Bottom line, no matter which platform you opt to use, it’s clear that marketers would benefit from using an integrated data collection and media delivery platform and from having the tech and data analysis support to make sure they are getting the most out of the data at their fingertips and using it to increase the effectiveness of their initiatives.
If you’re interested in the full report and the case studies that it includes, you can find it at The Light and dark of Social Sharing (registration required).
We all hope that the content we create as part of our marketing initiatives is being shared by all possible means. But there’s a big difference between publishing a post or launching a campaign and hoping that it’s shared and knowing that it’s shared—and where. Hopefully this look at dark social sharing and the reality that a vast number of folks consuming your content are accessing it via dark social and sharing it via dark social is food for thought for you moving forward. Also, consider using things like short URLs or links with calls to action to download for more information as a way to more effectively track how your content moves across the web and who is reading, accessing, and putting it to use.
What do you think about dark social sharing? Are you taking it into consideration as you evaluate the efficacy of your content? Are you doing anything special to try and track it? I would love to hear your thoughts.
This post was written as part of the Dell Insight Partners program, which provides news and analysis about the evolving world of tech. For more on these topics, visit Dell’s thought leadership site PowerMore. Dell sponsored this article, but the opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dell’s positions or strategies.
Other resources on this topic:
Graphics source – The Light and dark of Social Sharing