10 December 2014 | Team Tamar

What you need to know about Dark Social

We are often led to believe that the social element of the web began in the early 2000’s when platforms like MySpace and Friendster emerged, allowing online users to connect with each other and share content. Alexis Madrigal reminded us back in 2012 that this is hardly the case. Madrigal’s article outlines that long before these social sites came about there was endless chat-rooms, forums, email and IM that users of the web used to come together.

“Dark Social” is a term coined by Madrigal that refers to the social sharing of content happening outside the reach of analytics and measurement tools. This is mostly talking about links and content sent via emails and online messaging services. A study by RadiumOne suggests that only 1/3 of online sharing activity is visible and trackable, leaving us in the “dark” about the other 2/3.

This has huge consequences for online companies and digital marketers who rely on social sharing data to better target their content and products. The statistic above shows that in terms of valuable usable data, we’re only scratching the surface.

From an online user perspective, this knowledge can be somewhat comforting as well as frustrating. The privacy of our online behaviour is more controversial than it has ever been and knowing it isn’t all easily accessible will relieve a lot of people. However, by signing up to platforms like Facebook and Twitter, we’re agreeing to exchange our personal data for access to the “social-side” of the internet. Users may ask, if the social aspect of the web has always existed, why hand over our information so freely?

User behaviour



Everyone knows that the world is becoming more and more mobile focused, and that includes ALL aspects of the web, even the parts we can’t see – over a third of dark social sharing being done on mobile devices (according to RadiumOne).

An interesting, and yet unsurprising finding by RadiumOne is that “pets” was the topic that online users where most likely to share publicly, with it being the only one that beat private sharing by any large amount (private sharing referring to dark social).

Only four other topics were shared publicly more than they were privately and this difference was very little. One┬átopic in particular may put online retailers’ minds partially at ease; shopping. Shopping related links and content are possibly the most important in the eyes of online marketers, giving them more data to use.

What to do about it?

The vast amount of data out there that’s un-measurable is clearly a concern but if brands and marketers were to discover a way to do so it would give them an incredible advantage over their competitors.They would be able to leverage this data to understand their customers better and improve ROI.

If sharing content such as online articles, blog posts, or even product pages, users will likely be sharing the URL’s. Often, these URL’s may┬ábe copy and pasted into browsers and go down as direct traffic to your site. Landing pages that are further into the site than the homepage and sub-folders – the ones with long URL’s – are most likely to have come from social sharing that can’t be tracked; the chances of someone typing them in manually are low.

Unfortunately, URL’s are hardly the most likely content to be shared; photos, text snippets, social posts – the list gets pretty long. There are tools, like Tynt, that automatically include the page URL when content is copied/pasted from your site. Despite being able to delete the URL easily, analyzing the data provided by users who don’t is better than nothing.

Dark Social is an issue no marketer or brand should be ignoring. The important take away is that although there is no real solution to the problem of private sharing, analyzing and measuring what we can is currently the only way to improve audience engagement and improve our current strategy.


Team Tamar