Dark Social is a form of social sharing that happens when someone copies and pastes content from your site or a link from the address bar into private communications such as emails, instant messages, or forum posts. In North America, 59% of all social sharing is done via Dark Social, 31% is done via Facebook, and the remaining 10% is done through all other social networks combined, according to a recent study by RadiumOne.
If you look at social-sharing data without incorporating Dark Social activity, you are seeing a skewed picture. For example, at the time this article was written, this Content Marketing Institute article received 170 Facebook shares, 991 LinkedIn shares, 696 Twitter shares, and 28 shares through Google Plus for a total of 1,885 shares. On average, 69% of worldwide sharing is done via Dark Social. If we assume that average sharing for this article, it would earn 4,196 Dark Social shares for a grand total of 6,081 shares. That is a huge impact made by Dark Social.
Plan for two kinds of sharing
Content marketing efforts can improve by recognizing that another substantial and different kind of sharing is occurring via Dark Social methods. You can optimize Dark Social for highly relevant, private sharing. It tends to be content offering high value to recipients because it comes from people who know them well enough to tailor a content recommendation.
Some examples of Dark Social activities include:
- Sharing a list of recommended books with a friend for an upcoming trip he’s taking
- Sending a take-out restaurant menu link to a friend to find out what she wants to order for dinner
- Receiving a gift suggestion from my father about what to buy my mother for Christmas
- Emailing a work colleague with the subject line “Critical Reading,” with five links to visit and read
In each case, the shared content always has a targeted purpose and is highly actionable. From the content marketer’s point of view, these shares are immensely valuable because they provide insight into genuine consumer interest and intent.
Dark Social activity differs markedly from public social media sharing, which trends toward lower levels of relevance and higher levels of virality. Content marketers need to be wary of using only public social media metrics as a measurement of success. Dark Social insights can provide a counterbalance to what is popular in social media by offering insight into what is valuable enough to share one-to-one or one-to-few.
6 steps to Dark Social nirvana
Content marketers may be surprised to learn just how easy it is to measure Dark Social and use its insights to develop a plan of action.
- Harness Dark Social on owned media
With the correct widget, you can measure all the copy-paste sharing and shares from social media buttons on every page of your site. Some tools show insights into shares and clicks by URL, sharing channel, and country. Use the data to work smarter for these valuable shares, creating content that delivers real value to these readers.
- Integrate shortened URLs
Use a link-shortening tool to track all branded content you share publicly. Each time someone copies the shortened URL and shares it privately, you can accurately measure its reach. In addition, standardizing the shorter links ensures all of your data is actionable for targeted advertising.
- Act on social insights in real time
Even the users sharing your content through Dark Social can be captured and tracked to retarget with paid media. To do this, you will most likely need to work with your media buyers to connect your audience-sharing data to the paid media distribution of your content. Your brand will benefit from having its first-party sharing data at the ready for effective targeting.
- Drive users back to your original content
Optimize Dark Social sharing by automatically adding a URL link to your site at the end of all your website content that is copied or pasted. For example, check out this page showcasing a new make of car for sale:
When a user copies the highlighted information and shares it through a private channel, the Toyota dealership could leverage Dark Social tracking to add an attribution link at the end of the share, driving future readers back to the original source.
The inclusion of this link can increase the virality of copy-paste activity. Also, be sure to look at share and click metrics by channel. Invest in the channels with the most shares and with the most clicks, which will likely be two different channels.
- Evaluate sharing differences
Layering Dark Social insights alongside the public social network insights may reveal new patterns. Does your audience share different types of your content publicly versus privately? How is your fun, snackable content being shared versus your serious, high-value content? This analysis can help you plan an editorial calendar with the ideal mix of serious and snackable content to further engage your Dark Social audience.
- Review sharing by geography
If you’re a global organization, be sure to gather sharing insights by geography. At RadiumOne, we recently analyzed geographic differences in sharing behaviors. For example, in the real estate category, Dark Social activity – as a percent of total social shares – is highest with the British (89%), less so with North Americans (40%), and less likely with Australians (29%). Other topics have completely different results. For example, in the politics category, the French are the most private (72%), while only 35% of North Americans share privately.
Double down for greater return
A thorough content marketing plan should involve content development based in part on Dark Social data. You need a complete view of social sharing to find the right balance between the viral content that tends to be shared publicly and the high-value, converting content that tends to be shared privately. With a comprehensive view of the engagement around your content you can hone in on what works and what doesn’t, creating content that drives views, readership, and followers of your content.
Find more best practices and rules of engagement for working with today’s top social media platforms. Read our Content Marketer’s Guide to Social Media Survival: 50+ Tips.
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