What Is Dark Social And How Can It Help My Business Grow?

Dark social is not the dark web. The dark web refers to internet sites that can only be accessed with a specialized web browser. Users utilize these sites to post content anonymously.

On the other hand, dark social refers to shares that are difficult to track. For example, think about when you found a great piece of content and e-mailed it or shared it on a Slack channel or Reddit group. This is dark social.

Why is dark social dominating the business marketing conversation today?

Because a lot of conversation related to your business or the services or products you provide is happening on channels you can’t measure. For example, your analytic tools can’t track website shares in chat channels, online communities, e-mails, and private messaging. Yet, at the same time, content distribution across these platforms is increasing.

So you’ll want to take advantage of a growing trend and make dark social a part of your paid or organic marketing strategy.

Why Is Dark Social Important To Your Business?

As previously discussed, setting goals and KPIs (key performance indicators) are essential to evaluating your marketing strategy. However, equally important is knowing your consumer audience.

    • Who are they?
    • What are their needs?
    • What moves them?
    • What kind of content do they like?
    • What digital channels do they use?

If you see that certain content is earning significant shares, you’ll know that the subject resonates with your target audience. As a result, you’ll want to create more content assets that address the same topics or deliver your messages in the same format.

But, with a silent audience, you won’t have this feedback. A link to your website page could be shared, resulting in dozens of new visitors to your website, and you won’t know how they came to find you. A social post could be copied and shared through e-mails or on a slack channel, resulting in hundreds of views.

    • How are they reacting?
    • What are the comments?
    • How many times is it re-shared?
    • Where are they re-sharing your content?
    • How many conversions came through your invisible audience?

According to data from RhythmOne, 84% of sharing happens on dark social, with only 16% attributed to public social channels. In addition, as consumers become concerned about privacy and safety, the number of conversations on platforms such as Discord, Facebook groups, private message apps, and others rises.

So, understanding dark social is critical to your business growth.

What Are Dark Social Channels?

What are considered to be dark social channels?

Social networks

    • Reddit

Forum, Groups, and Communities

    • Facebook groups
    • Slack channels
    • Discord servers

Content Platforms

    • Spotify
    • Apple
    • Podcast

Word-of-Mouth Communication

    • In-person events
    • Conferences
    • Zoom
    • E-mails

Private Messaging Apps

    • WhatsApp
    • Facebook Messenger
    • Telegram
    • Signal

What Is Reddit, Discord, Or Slack?

In case you’re not familiar with these alternate channels, let’s take a quick tour.

Reddit is the sixth most visited digital channel in the U.S. It has more than 1.5 billion users, making it more popular than Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Hundreds of forums and micro-communities, known as subreddits, discuss virtually every topic. You can share a text post, image, video, or link to an external content asset or webpage.

Discord is a chat app boasting more than 250 million daily users, with 14 million people logging on daily. Most Discord users are gamers, but not exclusively. The app hosts servers on various topics such as self-improvement, entrepreneurship, and growth strategies.

Slack has probably become the most well-known instant messaging and chat app as more and more businesses adopted a remote or hybrid model during the pandemic. In addition, public Slack channels have been set up around specific topics or niches. Users share content, make announcements, ask for advice, and promote their services or products. Slack also hosts many job boards and is the premier networking channel today.

If you haven’t been on Reddit, Discord, or a Slack channel lately, you’ll be surprised to see how much product discovery goes on. Users seek out information on these channels because they trust the answers they receive more than they do from brand content and ads or Google searches.

dark social

How Might Dark Social Show Up In Your Google Analytics?

Take a look at your Google Analytics or other analytics platform referral channels. You’ll see something like the following:

    • Direct
    • Paid social
    • Organic search

Direct traffic usually means the visitor typed your URL into a browser or followed your URL listed in a social post, webinar, or other digital assets.

But the truth is that all the traffic categorized as direct is not direct. So, here’s an example.

You create a white paper or a slider and share it on your Instagram or LinkedIn page. And one of your followers likes it, engages with it, and shares it on their Slack channel. Somebody in their Slack workspace sees it and clicks on the CTA you had embedded in your content. And then they end up on your website.

Silent Sharing

But even more challenging is that people can share your content without the link. It’s called “cut-and-paste.”

Let’s say they see something they really like on Instagram, copy and paste it, and share it in a Facebook group or in an email. Or they share it on an instant messaging app. For instance, they can share your content directly on WhatsApp or Telegram.

According to research, 65 to 70% of all website shares come from copy and paste, and these shares are not attributable.

Your Silent Audience Is Also A Positive

At first glance, it appears that dark social is negative, but content shared through dark social channels tends to result in higher click-through rates.


Because that share comes from someone the receiver knows and trusts. An Ogilvy Cannes study found that 74% of consumers consider word of mouth a key influencer when purchasing.

How Do I Trace My Dark Social Traffic?

So, how can you track your dark social traffic if Google Analytics is unreliable? The initial contact with your website or social media channel will not be easy to attribute. But once you have the consumer in the pipeline, you can collect data from them related to how they found out about you. For instance, you can create a pop-up or referral form on your website. Other tools to use are surveys, polls, and contests.

Your goal is to discover precisely how a new follower, website visitor, or customer has heard about you. Where did they see your content?

Why did your content make them want to visit your website, learn more about you, and ultimately purchase?

 Social Listening Tools

Social listening tools also can help you track dark social traffic. Here are a few to try out.

    • Buffer
    • Sprout Social
    • BuzzSumo
    • Falcon.io

Social Share Tools

Link shorteners

URL link shortener platforms shorten your website page, blog article, or other content URL. These tools also provide tracking, analytics, and other options you can customize depending on your subscription.

So, while it’s true that you can’t fully track what’s happening in dark social, with these tools, you can gain some insight into the conversations taking place about your brand, where your social shares originate, and a deeper insight into the needs of your target audience.

Dark Social Wrap-Up

It’s worth your time to dig into dark social, not only so that you can attribute website visitors, social media followers, or content shares. Participating in dark social platforms provides you an opportunity to introduce a new audience to your products or services in a non-promotional way. Further, by listening in on the conversations you’ll learn more about your target audience. You’ll find out what consumers need, gaps in the market, and how they feel about your competitors.

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