by Julie Atherton | Managing Director, Small Wonder | April 11, 2017 There’s a growing force in social media – it kind of sneaked up when most brands were busy on Facebook but it’s impact is huge and growing. Because it’s outside of media planning control, because it can’t be measured by the usual analytics, because it’s stealthy, subversive, consumer-directed, it’s been dubbed “dark social’. But what does it mean, and how can you make sure your customers don’t disappear into the dark social abyss? What is dark social? When people share content via private channels it is harder to track and measure their activity than when they use standard social platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. Private channels include email, text, and instant messaging apps like Snapchat, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and WeChat, and the volume of sharing in these channels far outstrips any other similar activity. Recent research from RadiumOne, shows these channels dominating sharing activity, completely outstripping Facebook where most brand’s social media spend occurs. Source: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BzcKg0_DslYFOERlOTVaYWhTQm8/view How does it work? When you WhatsApp your friends with a link copied from a website, text your mum with a link grabbed from an article, or cut and paste a URL from your browser into an email, you are sharing via dark social. The usual links that track the source are not there, and the traffic shows up as “direct traffic” in the brand’s web analytics. If your brand has high and growing numbers of direct traffic, ask yourself if the results are believable? Are that many people really typing out long and complex URLs to find you? It’s likely that you have a lot of dark social shares. Normal social sharing links include the source and are easily tracked. But as mobile usage increases and messenger apps overtake traditional channels, more sharing is occurring in these untracked realms. What is great about dark social? Social media is the digital representation of all human interaction. As the technology gets cleverer we can interact more personally via the web. Dark social is more intimate, more personal and more likely to be important, than publically shared information. Whether you are actively involved or not, your brand is being affected by dark social. It is driving traffic, reaching different demographics, and enhancing your broader marketing initiatives. What can I do about it? Being aware of dark social is half the battle – now you know, you can plan for it. Then take some simple steps to get involved: Content is King – make sure your content is awesome! No-one shares it if it isn’t great. Limit the Darkside – make those share buttons appealing, visible and in the right place so it’s easier to share in the (trackable) light. Engage in Chat – think about using chatbots to learn how people engage in messaging. Build your insight into future strategies. Short is Sweet for URLs – use shortened URLS with trackable links, such as ow.ly to track deeper engagement. Power up Social Tools – consider social tools such as Po.st to share content and track into the dark. So turn on the light and jump in! If you'd like to learn more about social media, view our Social Media marketing courses today.