You probably know social media interaction as a never ending scrolling feed of updates from friends, family, influencers, and brands alike. Sharing memes, posting stories, and making statuses is the usual understanding of what it is. While that is ostensibly what it is, there are many deeper layers to what social media activity can look like aside from pressing a heart button. 

Understanding Dark Social

Online content can be shared in two ways: a reader can either use a share button provided or copy and paste a link to their content onto their social media platform. From this, you can differentiate three types of social sharing: open social, closed social and dark social platforms.

Open social and closed social sharing present themselves in your analytics programs as social, “correct” traffic, but dark social does not. Dark social (not to be confused with “dark web”, which harbors illegal and malicious content) is the invisible, hidden world of social sharing we aren’t able to access. 

As long as dark social remains a secret, we will not get a full picture of our return on investment for our social media marketing efforts. Moreover, dark social makes the majority of content sharing activities. 

So, what are the types of social interactions? Let’s break them down. 

1. Open social

Open Social is the most basic type of sharing and it is the easiest one to measure. Open social sharing means a user sharing a post in their open social platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook. (An important distinction: Facebook Messenger is a closed social platform). This doesn’t mean the profile itself has to be open, just the type of platform.

2. Closed social

Closed Social sharing happens in closed social platforms like Slack, email, and WhatsApp. The way it differs from dark social is that the sharing has occurred via a Share-button, preserving the metadata. 

The tracking comes from metrics on the “share button”; but that is about the extent of the understanding of the insight on interaction as conversations are encrypted within message sharing apps. 

3. Dark social 

Now onto the fun stuff, Dark Social sharing happens when someone copies a link and pastes it into a closed social channel like WhatsApp or email. During this process, the metadata within the link is lost and when the next person clicks the link, it will look like direct traffic in your analytics processor. 

This is when things get tricky, then, because that traffic is far from direct, as not only was it shared to a social platform, it was shared directly to the person or people receiving the link. Nearly 4 out of 5 posts are shared on dark social! Who would have thought!

Finding Your Dark Social Traffic

When you first start using website tracking tools (such as Google Analytics), you might be thrown off by the massive relative amount of direct traffic coming to your website. The simplified view is that all of this traffic basically stems from people typing your URL into a toolbar or from people clicking a bookmarked link. 

These do explain some amount of your homepage visitors, but looking at specific sites and new visitors, is it really possible that so many people have written those specific URLs to their toolbar? 

We’d be talking about a lot of people who have a lot of time on their hands to be guessing post names and URLs. Another, slightly more likely, explanation is that this traffic stems at least partly from dark social.

If you want to get an idea of your dark social traffic but don’t want to go into downloading a separate tool for it, you can get an approximate idea of the amount in your analytics processor (in this case, Google Analytics). We will break down this process in our follow up blog.

Knowing your dark social shares is an incredibly useful way to gather data about the content your users find most valuable. It shows what they are willing to go above and beyond to spread in their network – meaning it has resonated with them and they have found it particularly useful. When a link is copied and pasted directly to a person or group of people who may find it useful, the subject and content have been pre-approved by someone to be useful, interesting or very, very funny. 

If you are not an analytics wiz, the notion of even pulling up basic analytics (or interpreting them) can be overwhelming. Recruit the My Social Biz team to give you the inside scoop on how your content is shared, and even the dark social traffic you may have no idea is happening behind the scenes! We offer all new clients a complimentary evaluation an audit of their performance and site health, and now is a great time to get an understanding of your businesses online performance before the holiday season falls upon us. Give us a call to get your audit going today!

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