The Rise of Dark Social

So what on earth is dark social?

  1. Dark Social, a social network for bats.
  2. Dark Social, a social network for people who only come out at night.
  3. Dark Social, the content that’s shared socially that you can’t track.

If it wasn’t obvious, number 3 is your answer (although I like the concept of number 2).  Pop ‘Dark Social’ into google and this is what you get:                

The term "dark social" was coined by Alexis C. Madrigal, a senior editor at The Atlantic, in a 2012 article. According to Madrigal, data from the Web analytics firm Chartbeat revealed 56.5% of the Atlantic's socialtraffic was from dark referrals


Which is great, but what EXACTLY is it. 

An article I read from Hootsuite recently depicts it perfectly (you can read it here). Here’s the scenario, you’re in the office, it’s 3pm, you’ve hit the wall. Searching for a quick break from the reality that is your soulless desk space on the whisper quite 3rd floor of an anonymous looking office building in the middle of town, you turn to the only place worth going to for escapism. Buzzfeed.

You find a Listicle (yes listicle, an article that’s a list) of the 20 best places to pet animals whilst drinking soya lattes. Inspired by it, you grab the link and email it around the office, or put it on the company intranet.

There you have it. Dark Social.

But why is it important?


Well according to hootsuites article up 60% of website referral traffic is dark social. So it begs the question, are we measuring our social activity correctly? Can we be reliant on the figures we pull from social platforms and our web analytics? With so much of the sharing outside of our control, it might be time to think again. 

The founder of this concept Alexis C. Madrigal has an interesting perspective on how we measure the performance of social this, which you can find here -  “Dark Social: We Have The Whole History of the Web Wrong

RadiumOne also released a fantastic report on trends seen in dark social sharing. Did you know that sharing activity volume through Dark social is 3 times larger than sharing activity on Facebook globally? Nope? Neither did I. 

But it got me thinking, the next time I look at the performance of a companies’ activity across social channels. Dark social will certainly play a role in drawing my conclusions.