Dark Social Tracking: A Key Component of Your Brand’s Marketing Strategy

Dark Social Tracking: A Key Component of Your Brand’s Marketing Strategy

While the dark web might make you think that any phrase with the prefix “dark” is shady and potentially illegal, dark social is by no means something to avoid. This includes links you shared in a family WhatsApp group or personal discussions about the latest trending product. Raise your hand if you’ve ever been having coffee talking about Hailey Bieber’s latest lip gloss and suddenly seen an advertisement for it on your phone? That’s dark social activity.

An astounding stat: dark social accounts for 95% of brands’ web traffic. So there’s no doubt that this is a key metric for digital marketers to understand. But how do you measure it given that it’s so shrouded in secrecy?

What is Dark Social?

Dark social is a term coined in 2012 by journalist Alexis C. Madrigal to refer to the sharing of content via private digital channels that can’t be tracked by traditional web analytics tools.

This includes links and content shared via text messages and private groups on messaging apps like WhatsApp, Discord, and Slack, as well as social platforms like Facebook and Instagram. This also applies to mentions of your product or service in a YouTube video or podcast episode. Even face-to-face conversations are a kind of dark social – remember that coffee chat we mentioned earlier? Sounds like a Black Mirror episode, right?

This type of sharing makes up the majority (up to 84%) of what is shared online. However, this type of engagement is difficult because marketers can’t track dark social media as easily as regular website visits.

Why brands need to track dark social

Dark social is ubiquitous – memes, information and links are being shared all the time – and it’s important for brands to join these conversations. Here’s why:

1. Gather valuable insights: Similar to social listening (i.e. spying on customer opinions and reviews across the internet), monitoring dark social can give brands deep insights into what content is being received by their target group.

2. Uncover untapped marketing potential: Tracking dark social can reveal hidden marketing opportunities. Brands can identify new audience segments, influencers, and channels for potential audiences.

3. Get accurate analytics and ROI: Ignoring dark social can bias your analytics and mislead your return on investment (ROI). Taking this into account gives you a complete overview of your marketing performance.

Is the dark society untraceable?

Here’s the interesting part: Imagine a movie with an elusive and mysterious female lead (bonus points if you remember Morticia Addams from The Addams Family). This is what dark social looks like.

Dark social is notoriously difficult to monitor and quantify. Sharing on these private corners of the internet leaves no referral data behind that analytics tools rely on to track where the traffic originated. Additionally, many of these dark social channels use encryption, adding an extra layer of complexity and making it difficult to identify the original referrer with traditional web analytics.

Dark social traffic is often categorized in the “direct” category in analytics reports; however, this classification can be misleading, as users are unlikely to manually type in long URLs to access content. Dark social is difficult to track, but not completely impossible.

How to Track Dark Social

You might not be able to track dark social accurately. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get a piece of the pie. Here’s how to track dark social:

1. Set up Google Analytics segments: Customize Google Analytics to better understand your dark social traffic by creating specific segments. This setup allows you to filter and focus on the data that matters to you.

For example, Google Analytics filters allow you to focus on getting data from users who are browsing different web pages on your site. If your goal is to understand what people are searching for on your website, you might want to skip visitors who go directly to the home page and then leave.

To track referral traffic from dark social channels, include visits classified as “direct traffic” in Google Analytics. These are visits where a user types your website’s URL directly into their browser.

2. Improve content tracking with trackable links. By integrating the Urchin Tracking Module (UTM) (customize your URLs by adding code snippets that enable tracking) and a link shortener (such as bit.ly), you can effectively monitor content sharing. You can analyze your content and gain insights into your audience’s behavior.

Additionally, following a path of trackable links gives you control over how your content is shared privately. Integrate sharing options such as Share on WhatsApp, Share by Email, Share by SMS, etc. into your website, each linked to a trackable URL. This approach allows you to identify the most popular sharing channels, track traffic sources, and leverage personal recommendations.

3. Get to know your own dark social community personally. Become a friend, a confidant, in other words, the recipient of these dark social connections. Running a private community around your brand takes dedication and time, but can pay big dividends if done effectively.

Consider dbrand, a company that excels at driving engagement within its r/dbrand subreddit. Here, customers can freely share their latest brand purchases, suggest new product ideas, and offer mutual support and advice (something you can’t do in person). Through this organic interaction, your brand’s identity is strengthened and you become the eyes and ears for your customers.

Now that you know how to woo Morticia Addams, be sure to keep engaging with Major Gomez to keep her successful and keep the magic alive. With millions of people discussing different topics and products every day, it’s important to stay connected so you don’t miss out on important conversations. At the same time, use your insights to create shareable content that performs well on dark social, so your brand can grow even in the dark corners of dark social.

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