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07/04/2017  |  BY EMMA GOBLE


A report by Radium One estimated that as much as 84% of outbound sharing takes place via dark social as people share via mediums such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and email.

Dark social is simply untraceable social media sharing hidden from view e.g.: You see something you like online – you cut and paste the link into a messenger or email conversation and press send. It’s sharing, but not in the open as we know it.


The reason it is known as ‘dark’ is that it goes under the radar of conventional ways of monitoring social media traffic because it will appear to be a direct referral when in fact it is generated as a result of social sharing – just in a different way.

The major difference between dark social and mainstream social media is the lack of traceability. If, for example, you see a product from a business shared via their Facebook channel and click on the link, the owners of the site will receive referrer data that shows how you reached them – via Facebook. If a friend sends you the link in an email, no such data will be available. They’ll register your visit but not know how you got there.

And as the ground-breaking original analysis of Dark Social in the Atlantic by Alex C. Madrigal pointed out, this way of sharing content is nothing new. While there’s a tendency to make the assumption that social media created this current mass predilection for social sharing, it was actually created in response to the way we were already using the internet.


Users sharing your content or singing your praises publicly on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram is great, but sharing selectively to the few people they’re confident will be really interested in is even better. One-on-one or one-on-several sharing is much more likely to garner a positive response than the one-to-many sharing seen on most social media platforms.

The rise of dark social is also perhaps evidence of a cultural shift that is taking place. People  – and especially the all-important millennial and even gen Z market – are now only too aware that virtually every move they make online is being captured to be used commercially and increasingly, they’re tired of it. In this context sharing content privately seems much more appealing. However, there’s no reason why businesses can’t benefit and use the data gathered to inform their strategy.


1. Make sharing easy
If you’re showcasing a great product on your website, make it easy to share- not just via conventional social media, but dark social too. For example enable sharing via WhatsApp, Email or SMS message and make sure these options are visible and easy to use.

2. Shorten URLs
These have two main advantages; their length makes them much easier to share than longer links and they’re easily traceable. Most software that enables you to create shorter URLs, such as will also allow you to track just how many people have clicked on that link, even if it has been cut and pasted away from its original source (e.g. lifted from Instagram and placed in an email). This will enable you to weed out dark social traffic from direct traffic and traffic from other sources.  

3. Track it
By implementing the steps above, your ‘dark social’ traffic should be easier to track. If funds and time allow, you could also consider investing in dedicated software designed to track ‘dark social’ traffic such as, which adds tracking data to your websites URLs in order to track shares via various platform.

4. Analyse it
Once you have a handle on what proportion of your traffic is dark social it’s time to start considering what, exactly, it is doing for your business. For example, are dark social leads leading to a better conversion rate than social media or PPC referrals? If so, needless to say this is an area where more marketing budget should be re-deployed.

Dark social is already a big influence on business’ bottom line, Adidas recently launched its dark social experiments using Whatsapp to build hyper local communities in a bid to ‘maintain’ engagement. ASOS have also adapted by providing options such as WhatsApp sharing via iOS and mobile apps. As the popularity of SnapChat, Messenger and WhatsApp continues to grow, now is the time to get to grips with how its influence can be used to boost your bottom line.