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At the conclusion of my last blog post, Social Media Trends in 2017: What’s hot and what’s not, I made reference to the rise of a phenomenon known as dark social.

This post then looks at what it is and what it means to your business.

What IS dark social?

According to the Techopedia definition of Dark social, one Alexis C Madrigal – a senior editor at The Atlantic first coined the term in 2012. He used it to describe the social sharing of content that happens beyond the parameters of a Web analytics program.

We can use the black market as an analogy. Black market transactions take place ‘under the table’. That allows the participants to avoid government price controls or taxes. And it’s similar with dark social. Though instead of avoiding taxes it avoids the usual means of measuring what content is being shared, where and who to, and how.

Now, picture this: you’re at work and you’ve slaved over a spreadsheet all day. 3pm comes around and you’ve hit that wall. To perk yourself up you navigate onto your favourite time waster, tilting the monitor so the boss can’t see you. You find an interesting/amusing article you want to share with a friend. So you copy the URL, dump it into an email and press ‘send’. That my friend is dark social. Welcome to the dark side.

Such private sharing is so much harder to track than content shared on such public platforms as Facebook and Twitter. Which means that lots of social media marketers are unaware of how big a slice of the social media pie dark social has on its plate.

Common channels for dark social Traffic

  • Messaging apps: WhatsApp, WeChat and Facebook Messenger
  • Email
  • Native mobile apps – Facebook and Instagram
  • Secure browsing – click from HTTPS to HTTP and the referrer isn’t passed on.  Safari has a secure browsing option that doesn’t save your browsing history and asks websites you visit not to track you.

For more in-depth information on what dark social is and how it works visit this blog from Hootsuite.

Why your business can’t ignore dark social

Here’s five reasons why you need dark social marketing to make the most of its reach:

  1. It’s everywhere

For the past 18 months, most clickbacks to dark social shares have come from mobile devices. Such clickbacks have risen from 53 percent in August 2014 to 62 percent in February 2016.  The remaining 38 percent comes from desktop computers.

  1. The effect of dark social on traffic is massive

Marketing firm, RadiumOne, reckon that the last 18 months has seen dark social shares jump from 69-84 percent across the globe.

In February 2016, RadiumOne’s research found that a mere 11 percent of site-originated mobile shares and 21 percent of worldwide clickbacks happened via Facebook. Yet, in the same month, there were seven times that number of site-originated mobile shares and more than three times the number of mobile clickbacks via dark social. And that’s ummm – well a lot!

  1. The marketing potential of dark social is huge 

The data from dark social is a detailed representation of what consumers are actually interested in. Get familiar with this information and you can infiltrate a targeted audience with your business.

  1. Dark social reaches the parts that other social can’t

If your target market is the Baby Boomers and the Silver Surfers take note. According to the research from RadiumOne, 46 percent of consumers aged 55 and above ONLY share via dark social. Whereas, of those in the 16-34 age range, only 19 percent do so.

  1. Dark social sharing is widespread in many industries

To give you an idea of how rife it is: if your business is in personal finance, food and drink, executive search or travel then more than 70 percent of social sharing happens via dark social.

In our interconnected, online world everyone’s a publisher. Everyone’s a content creator. If the content you create is for your business then it’s important to know from where the bulk of your readers are coming.

No matter what percentage of dark social traffic your business gets, it’s an idea to track it. So, next time we’ll look at some of the tools and tactics you can deploy to do just that.