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Dark Social: Measurement Strikes Back

April 8, 2015 Social Media 0 Written by James O'Connor

Dark-Side-social-mediaV3“Fear is the path to the dark side.  Fear leads to anger.  Anger leads to pain.  Pain leads to suffering”.  Star Wars fans and movie buffs alike will be familiar with this famous quote from Yoda and, admittedly, while it’s a little extreme to say that this concept is directly applicable to measurement of Dark Social, it isn’t too far wrong.  A great deal of fear surrounds the area, but instead of this fear pushing communications experts to learn more about the dark side, it’s keeping them away.  Unsure of how to measure Dark Social, many are just ignoring it completely and – whether they’re aware or not – their results are suffering because of it.

Shares, I am your father.

Dark Social; it sounds mysterious, sinister even, but if you’re looking for something complex or “cutting-edge”, then you’ve come to the wrong place.  Dark Social is actually quite a dated act.  In essence, it’s the Daddy of social media sharing, it’s what people did with information they found online before they had access to public sharing platforms like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.  If you’ve ever copied and pasted a link and sent it to a friend, or group of friends, by email or private message, then you’ve contributed towards Dark Social activity.

You underestimate the power of the Dark Side

With billions of people using public social networks, you could be forgiven for thinking that measuring Dark Social won’t have much of an impact.  You’re wrong.  Think about the number of times you share links privately, as opposed to on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.  Now imagine, as a brand, not monitoring any content that is shared this way….

Unlocking Dark Social information for your brand can be highly beneficial, not just in terms of brand awareness but also in terms of campaign targeting.  Usually, when sharing of this kind happens it’s on a one-to-one or one-to-few basis.  People are sharing information they don’t need to tell the world about but that is highly relevant to the person who’s receiving it. Understanding this would allow brands see what’s resonating with their audience more clearly and help with better audience segmentation and targeting.

As all Dark Social sharing happens in private, it’s difficult to ascertain the exact volumes, but RadiumOne states that 69% of all sharing activity, at a global level, takes place via Dark Social.  Putting that in simple terms – if you ignore Dark Social, potentially, you’re reporting on less than a third of your social media shares!  But with these private networks being beyond the reach of normal analytics tools, how can a brand monitor their mentions on Dark Social?

Use the source

While you will never be able to identify the source of all your visitors, examining your direct traffic links on Google Analytics will help you identify visitors that find you via Dark Social.  Usually, when a visitor comes to a site directly, they’ll do so by typing a short URL into the address bar e.g. www.kmni.ie .  If you see long URLs in your direct traffic listings, e.g. www.blog.kmni.ie/great-blog-post-about-social-media-that-you-should-read-now, it’s unlikely that the user typed this in manually.  A more likely explanation is that they received the link after someone copied and pasted it into an email or private message.  When the user clicks on this link, they’re generating website traffic from a dark origin.

Another way of tracking your content is to use customised and shortened URLs.  Google’s URL Builder tool will allow you to create custom URLs for your content that include relevant information, making the traffic from these links easier to identify and your results easier to segment.  Using a link-shortening service like ow.ly or bit.ly on your custom links (which can become a bit unwieldy!) will give you even more insights into your content and how it is being shared.

Finally, take control of sharing at the source.  Make it easy for your audience to share content in a measurable way.  Adding share buttons to your piece is an easy option that will give you insight into the number of times a piece has been shared.  Try to focus on giving options that fall into the Dark Social category, like “Share by Email”, and particularly mobile-friendly options e.g. “Share on Whatsapp”.  Sharing buttons mean users can pass on content with a single click – it’s a much easier process than copying, changing platforms, and then pasting.  The added bonus for you is that it’s more measurable too!

Many advocate the disabling of the copy and paste function on your site, so visitors can only share using the share button.  While this gives you more control over sharing statistics, ultimately it could come at a great cost.  Due to the frustration of not having the option to copy and paste, your audience may abandon the sharing process altogether.  While it is important to have as much knowledge as possible about who is sharing what kind of information about your brand and where they’re sharing it, it should never be at the cost of the content itself being shared!

Share Wars: A New Hope

Recently, a breakthrough was made by Alexis Madrigal, who originally coined the term Dark Social, and Chartbeat, a web traffic tracking app.  They discovered that a large proportion of shares, previously categorised as Dark Social, had come from mobile apps like Facebook and Reddit.  This breakthrough will have a huge impact, with between 10%-50% of traffic, previously categorised as Dark Social, now becoming traceable.  Although there are still some unknown elements of Dark Social, we can hope that as research into the area continues, we will gain more and more understanding of how people share, what they share and why.

Dark Social isn’t as sinister as it sounds – it’s something we all do – many of us on a daily basis.  While measuring your complete social impact can seem like an impossible task, exploring the area of Dark Social isn’t.   Adding sharing buttons to your content, customising your links and exploring your direct traffic can all provide extra insight that was previously hidden in the dark.  Combining your Dark Social statistics with your results from social media, press and broadcast for a panoramic view of your media presence will leave you as a force to be reckoned with! So go forth and analyse, and may the force be with you.


This post was originally published on the Economist’s Leanback blog: http://www.economistgroup.com/leanback/channels/dark-social-kantar-media/

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