How Marketers Can Track “Dark Social” Sharing in Private, Mobile Messaging Apps



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In today’s digital and social world, some argue that privacy is completely and utterly dead., doesn’t fully agree.

According to Kevin Shively, Head of Content Marketing for Simply Measured, 70% of social sharing is dark and 50% of social traffic and sales are dark. Dark social continues to rise to prominence because people don’t want to share everything publicly. Instead, they are choosing to share privately with their closest friends and family via peer-to peer channels. “What you share privately is a lot different than what you share publicly and that’s why dark social is so important, especially as a brand marketer,” states Shively.

Shively attempts to demystify dark social when he defines it as “Website traffic that originates from a shared link, but does not pass a referrer and thus appears as ‘direct traffic’ in web analytics.” According to Shively, a lot of this happens in mobile apps. “When we talk about Facebook apps, If you click a link on the Simply Measured Facebook page within that app, it’s not going to pass a referrer through Google Analytics, so that ends up in the direct traffic bucket.”

This not only includes majority of Social Mobile Apps, but also mobile messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Kik, and Messenger. In addition, SMS Text messaging and major email providers such as Gmail, Yahoo, and Outlook do not pass a referrer either.

Shively attempts to explain why companies should care about dark social when he states, “You own dark social. This is a big component of what you’re doing everyday. It’s that earned traffic that’s happening. All of that traffic that’s going to your website from people sharing content throughout the web.”

Shively also mentions that It’s important to understand the concept of attribution and where social is contributing. “What you’re doing on social doesn’t align specifically on revenue. You’re not going to get the budget that you need for brand awareness activities if you don’t know how social is contributing throughout the funnel.”

The importance of understanding dark social for social marketers is highlighted when Shively uses an example of a leading beauty retailer. “They were convinced people were sharing the cosmetics and purchasing it as a result, but they couldn’t track it. They had this massive social budget that they had to justify and they weren’t able to do it.

We helped them measure their dark social and found out that 78% of their social purchases were not being attributed to social. They were selling a ton of stuff on their channels that they weren’t getting credit for. This is hugely important. You’re driving value and actual revenue for your business, but you just don’t know what it is.”

As mentioned by Shively, measuring dark social can help a social marketer gain resources for further initiatives. “Once the leading beauty retailer figured this out, they were able to invest in influencer programs with influencers they didn’t even know they had. They were able to optimize content, focus on specific products, and basically change their social strategy.”

Shively’s final words of advice? Don’t be afraid of dark social. “It’s possible to measure dark social. Understand what it actually means, what the potential impact is, and how some of the best companies are solving this. Take that back and figure out a game plan for how you’re going to attack this problem. How are you going to turn it into an opportunity?”

This event took place at Social Media Week in Los Angeles. Sign up for SMW Insider to access the full video of this event and 50+ other #SMWLA sessions.

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