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Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark Social


Dark social sounds ominous.  It sounds like the title of a spy thriller or the theme for a school disco.  It would make a great name for an emo band.  But it is really something that you probably do every day.  Have you ever read an article online, decided one person you know would love it and then copied the URL to email or message to them?  Boom, that’s dark social.  It just means that the piece was shared without using the share buttons, and the website cannot trace how the person who got that link and clicked it learned about them.  It’s a simple way to share an in-joke with your best friend or a website for a romantic hotel with your partner.  But it annoys those trying to figure out how well their inbound marketing content is doing.

Dark social is growing.  The term isn’t new.  It was coined several years ago.  But the last couple of years have seen a big rise in dark social sharing.  You can tell if your content is being shared darkly by checking how many people arrive directly to a specific blog post or other non-landing page without any referral source.  Some websites have learned that most of their social sharing is dark.

Is Dark Social a Problem?

Yes and no.  The good news is that your content is being shared.  Hooray!  That’s the goal.  The bad news is that you can’t tell which social media platforms are working best for your audience.  It foils your efforts to test different ways of posting, different times of day and different wording on the social media post with the link.  But don’t lose sight of the main thing – your content is being shared!  Sending it to one person via a private message or email does mean it is being shared with one person instead of a couple hundred.  But the odds are very high that the one person is going to open that link and read it.  That one person is very, very targeted.

One problem that can come up is if people copy and paste your actual content instead of copying and pasting the link.  That’s just not nice.  But you can still do something to direct readers back to your site.  You can reference your brand name a few times in the article, and you can include links back to your site in the body of the content.

Sometimes dark social sharing is the result of a UX problem.  The share buttons aren’t easy enough.  You encourage open sharing, the kind you prefer, with good web design.  Position the share buttons in an obvious, convenient spot.  Make sure it is clear which buttons are for sharing this piece of content and which are for following your brand on social media.    So many digital marketing problems come down to UX!

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