By Lisa Hester, Senior Account Manager

Social sharing is increasingly going “dark.” And PR professionals actively involved with clients’ social media programs need to take note of this growing practice, which, by nature, can cloak the measures of a social campaign’s success.

According to The Atlantic senior editor Alexis Madrigal, who coined the term, dark social is “the social sharing of content that occurs outside of what can be measured by Web analytics programs.”

Dark social, then, is Web traffic in which the source, such as a social network or a Google search, is not identified. When a link is copied and pasted into an email or instant message, or shared via text message, or posted to a group, for example, tracking tags generally are not included. Thus, it is categorized as dark social.


And it’s on the rise.

A recent study by RadiumOne, a global software company, concluded that dark social shares increased from 69 percent in 2014 to 84 percent in 2018 globally.

As an aside, that same research reveals an interesting age-related difference in that that 46 percent of consumers age 55 and older share only via dark social, as opposed to only 19 percent of those age 16 to 34.

Further, for companies in personal finance, food and drink, travel or executive search, more than 70 percent of social sharing is done through dark social, the study determined.

Naturally, dark social is much more difficult to identify and track. And increased usage of such apps as WhatsApp, Viber, Facebook Messenger and WeChat are fueling its growth. In fact, market researcher Emarketer estimates that nearly 2.19 billion consumers will be using messaging apps by the end of 2019. That is more than one-fourth of the global population.

Three solutions for combatting dark social stand clear.

First, get personal. As social sharing becomes more targeted…with groups forming around specific topics and interests…find ways to get involved in these group settings as active contributors to the conversation. Participate in discussions. Listen and offer comments. As time passes, and when appropriate, weave in comments about your client or cause.

Second, develop social media content that matters. According to conclusions by the recent  Content Trends Report by BuzzSumo, “sites that have built a strong reputation for original, authoritative content” thrive. Authoritative research and reference content continues to gain links, the report states. In particular, authoritative evergreen content consistently gains shares and links over time.

Third, while there is no way to fully capture directly dark social, there are ways to analyze what is known and formulate hypotheses about the unknown. Identify expert teams and tools that can shed light on dark social so as to better assess the success of a company’s social efforts.

One quick tip from the experts, add a share button to content. The buttons provide an easy method for sharing content and they can be used to add a tracking code to the link.