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How To Better Leverage Dark Social

How to use dark social

Social media used to be a nice to have, then it became a have to have and now its a cut-throat pay to play landscape for most businesses who want to extract traffic from the popular platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. Unless you've built and active audience, established ownership of popular groups or you're simply brilliant at consistently creating engaging content for your followers, you're probably going to have to throw money at the problem.

What makes social media so popular with marketers is the ability to track key metrics like impressions, reach, click-through rate, cost per click and focus on creating profitable campaigns. The issue here is you start to pigeon hole your thinking, and you forget about all that cannot be tracked. As a social media marketer, your job has expanded over the years; at first, it was more focused on community management. It eventually evolved and added paid advertising, then a layer of strategic communication as you had to get smart with the algorithm changes.

Juggling your paid strategies with organic content and outreach via groups and engagement is time-consuming enough. Still, as more catch on to this strategy, we have to look for new avenues to persue or attract traffic. That is why I now feel every social media strategies and social media manager has to be incorporating dark social into their strategy.

What is dark social

Dark social is a term that refers to any web traffic from social platforms that are not connected directly to a known source. Dark social usually makes up a considerable amount of the sites direct web traffic since Google Analytics uses this a catch-all for uncategorised traffic.

Alexis C. Madrigal of The Atlantic coined the phrase dark social initially back in 2012 and used it to describe “untrackable” social content sharing through means like email, instant messages and even mobile applications.

Dark Social traffic represents traffic that is a result of links shared via private digital communication channels exclusive of referral headers, and, as a result, cannot be tracked by analytics tools.

Dark social is a massive part of the marketing ecosystem and to illustrate my point I'll refer to a 2014 Statista report, which attributes Dark Social accounts as the primary driver for the majority of all online shares.

If the stat above is correct, then we are not accurately tracking the majority of our social media traffic, and therefore missing out on the opportunity for additional growth.

How much dark social traffic are you getting?

You just said you couldn't track it, but now you're telling me I can? Well, not entirely, there's a pretty nifty tool dark social marketers use call GetSocial. Their Dark Social Calculator works with your Google Analytics account and pulls data directly from your google account to assess how much Dark Social traffic you may be getting over time. The site is a paid service and claims to be tracking 100 million private & dark social shares each month.

How to better measure dark social

If you don't feel like paying for additional traffic suits your business, then you can still improve your internal tracking to assist categorising your dark social traffic a bit better. As a marketer, you should be familiar with link tracking, and there are several steps you can reveal the source of, and start to categorise your Dark Social traffic such as:

Get smart with your URL tracking

Start by cleaning up your direct traffic and properly tag ALL of your marketing campaigns using custom campaign tracking parameters, such as the Google Analytics UTM tags. Once you've eliminated all your controllable channels, you can start to deep dive into your direct traffic and start making certain assumptions. Have a look at URLs hosted deeper in your site getting a high number of direct visits; this is a good indication that it is a popular dark social piece.

Take control of your links

Implement advanced tagging mechanisms throughout your site. Develop and use easy-to-click smart share buttons that automatically attach proper tracking tags on each shared URL. Implement auto-tagging on sharing buttons, RSS feeds and even bookmarked links.

Use shortened tagged URLs

Wrap all branded sharing content using branded short links. Replace your long tagged links into short, branded and trackable links on your social media posts, email blasts, QR codes, offline campaigns, email signatures, text messages, etc. Shortened links tend to be very popular in dark social since they are easy to copy and paste and send on nIM apps

Segment dark social audiences

Group your Direct traffic into different audiences; separate direct visits from a desktop (including tablets) and mobile, but exclude those visitors who landed on the home page. You can also look at some apps (such as Twitter and Facebook) which include metadata to the User-Agent string that you can use to identify and segment mobile app traffic (iPhone as well as Android).

Eliminate analytics implementation errors and configuration issues

Make sure you're using server-side redirects (and not JavaScript and Meta Refresh redirects) and perform comprehensive tag audits and eliminate any tracking errors.

Get creative and develop ad-hoc solutions

Such as LunaMetrics' opensource Directmonster.js solution (available on GitHub).

Build an audience on dark social

Dark social is no different from traditional social or direct marketing like email and app marketing and a lot rests on creating an audience you can have direct contact with and on keeping them engaged regularly.

Having a dark social presence

If you're getting a large amount of traffic from dark social, it will make sense to have a presence on these platforms and engage in conversations with your audience. Depending on your niche or region of the world, different platforms may be prevalent so you'll have to do your research and pick the platforms that are audience users frequently.

You could create a telegram group, a discord server, WhatsApp groups and use it an additional source for sharing links to your site and engaging with customers. Remember to tag your links appropriately so you can see which campaigns work best in your dark social circles.

Tap into popular messaging groups

If you're not keen on managing a group or dark social accounts, you could do research and find popular groups that cater to your niche. Reach out to these admins of the group and see if you can collaborate with them to share content in their groups every month or offer their members special offers or an entire them with an affiliate program.

Adding dark social sharing to your site

Users are already using dark social by coping your link in the browser, so why not make it easier for them to use dark social by adding "click to share" buttons on your website. You can add share buttons such as:

  • Share to email
  • WhatsApp
  • Snapchat
  • Telegram
  • Discord
  • Messenger
  • WeChat

Having these share prompts don't only more accessible for users to share your content but allows you to combine shortened links the UTM code that will help you track more of your dark social traffic accurately.

Turning dark social into leads

Now that you've established your platforms and have the correct tracking in place its time to start engaging with your audience and turn this untapped resource into a lead generation tool.

Create informal content

Social media is informal, but Dark Social takes casual and makes it that much more personable. It is essential to understand that when you are marketing in this space, you are entering a private, less formal forum where people share intimate details, content and ideas. Avoid content that is formal or used in your other campaigns, and this is not the place for that. Try to be more conversational and engage users on a personal level

So, look to share content like:

  • Ask a question
  • Share a poll or survey
  • Share a promotional code
  • Share an interactive GIF or video
  • You can also use it to run AMA's or get feedback or customer sentiment about your brand products or services.

Know what dark social users are looking at

Review the pages your traffic is landing on and see if its landing pages or blog you've created are getting heavy, consistent "direct" traffic; odds are a good chunk of that traffic is due to your social media strategy. Use this data to create more of the same and slowly extract more users from dark social circles.

Implement behavioural exit-intent messages

Encourage users with subscription offers, tailored promotions or prompt email sign-ups to your dark social users to convert them into channels you can actively track. Personalise your messages and calls-to-action based on user interest and past behaviour or where you are sending your dark social users to and use the content to profile their internet.

Retarget dark social visitors

Combine your dark social with your paid social and ad campaigns and use the visitor data to unlock new target audiences by utilising programmatic media buying to retarget Dark Social visitors, directly on social media mobile applications.

Don't Try direct selling in dark social circles

Traditional social media runs on ads and has already been tainted, and while it still works a growing number of users are becoming numb to ads or actively avoid them. Social media bombards users with ads, and if it's not through the native ad service, then it's via influencers with brands using them as a front for products.

Consumers use dark social as a conversational tool to share ideas and findings and to resonate with these users you need to adapt your messaging to this state of mind.

You will have to play the long game and think about how you can create content that brings users to your site that might end up leading to a sale soon. Dark social is a great way to create a social community, so get creative, personal and helpful, and you will see results!

Tell us your social story

Have you been frustrated with social media marketing for your business? Has the lack of traffic and leads got you down? How is social media working for your business? Let us know in the comments below.

Contact us

If you would like us to improve the social media or want us to create a social media strategy for your site or want to know more about digital marketing for your business, then don’t be shy we’re happy to assist. Simply contact us

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Recommended reading

If you enjoyed this post and have a little extra time to dive deeper down the rabbit hole, why not check out the following posts on dark social media marketing.

Tags: Social Media Marketing

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