Everything you need to know about dark social sharing

Dark social channels are the platforms used to share content that goes undetected by major analytics software. More than 80% of shares from social platforms are shared privately using software like Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Signal and more.

With a rise in messaging applications, there’s a slew of new ways to connect with friends and as a business. The result is billions of monthly active users, including the highly valued millennials and Generation Z audiences who possess the highest spending power. The four most popular messaging applications have already surpassed the four most popular social networks in terms of monthly active users. According to a recent survey, Facebook Messenger is used by 56.8%, and Snapchat users are said to send 2.1 million snaps every minute.


Graphics credit: Statistica

The new age of Messenger communication has made it harder for marketers to track analytics. For example; if a person were to share a meme from your business page, you would see one share, but it doesn’t take into account how many times it has been reshared with other friends or family. As people are becoming more concerned about privacy, users are turning to engaging with family groups, friend groups, email chains and other private platforms—copy-pasting content and resharing it with their friends and family
Although this drives more awareness and engagement, the copy-paste link does not carry any referral data and makes tracking difficult.

This non-referral, untrackable traffic coming to your website from messaging apps and email chains are referred to in the marketing circles as ’Dark Social’.



The amount of dark social traffic is increasing, and it currently accounts for the bulk of all social traffic. According to a RadiumOne survey from 2016 highlighted in the chart above, dark social accounts for 84 per cent of all social sharing activity.

The essence of Dark Social

The two main ways in which a user can share content are: use a share button provided by the social media platforms or copy and paste a link to their content or social media platform. This further branches out to three types of social sharing options: open social, closed social and dark social.

Open social and closed social sharing are collected as social and current traffic by your traffic measurement software but dark social isn’t. Dark Social is completely invisible and is an oasis of social sharing that we as marketers and business owners aren’t able to successfully access.

The very existence of dark social affects our clarity on important metrics such as return on investment for our social media marketing.

Defining Open Social, Closed Social and Dark Social

Open Social

The most common type of sharing happens to be the easiest to measure. Open social entails a user sharing a post on their open social platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook.

Closed Social

Sharing taking place on closed social platforms such as Slack, WhatsApp, email chains etc is called Closed Social sharing. The sharing occurs via the share button provided by the social media platform hence making it trackable and measurable every time someone clicks that button.
Closed social platforms have begun to offer share buttons, but the number of shares from dark social networks is still twenty times higher than the number of shares from closed social networks.

Dark Social

When someone copies a link and pastes or reshares content on closed social channels such as WhatsApp, Signal, Messenger, or Discord, the metadata within the link is lost making it invisible. This is called Dark Social.

When the next person clicks this link on the closed social platform, the analytics processor thinks it is direct traffic which is far from the truth as the link must have been already clicked by a few 100 people.

Importance of pushing dark social content

Finding your dark social shares is an effective method to learn about the material that your users value the most.

The very fact that social content or screenshot was copied and pasted to multiple closed groups who found it useful and approved it as relevant and interesting, makes dark social traffic an important metric.

Dark Social is thriving because the content has been personally curated by your friends and family. This is the kind of content you should be pushing and providing to your readers and customers.

What you can do about Dark Social

  • Consider using tools that specifically track dark social. Apps such as Getsocial.io, AddThis and ShareThis track ‘copy and paste’ shares on multiple applications. They achieve this by embedding tracking codes on your website where the content lies. Whenever someone reshares it in a messaging app, they get redirected to the website where the tracking code identifies them as a share. This helps you get a better idea of the effectiveness of your content.
  • Make your content mobile-friendly. 62% of clicks to websites come from mobile making it essential to keep your website mobile-friendly. You can achieve this by building Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) for your content to ensure faster mobile loading times. When users click on copy-pasted links on chat groups, your website needs to be highly responsive for quick uploads.
  • Double-check your social sharing buttons. Placing your social buttons in the right places can help you control the scale of dark social. The social buttons track the shares as they measure referral data. Double-check to see if the links work properly, this can help curb the amount of copying and pasting of links.
  • Use shortened links. Websites such as goo.gl, bit.ly and tinyURL.com shorten your long URLs making them easier to share on social networks, email chains etc. The links are made upon the longtail links and hence are easily trackable for insights and analytics. For example: www.boostsocialmedia.com.au/[packages, when added to bit.ly, becomes https://bit.ly/3NL09DE Not only does it shorten your link for free. It can allow you to post links when you are limited to characters such as Twitter and Google Business Profile Manager.
  • Create Compelling Content. The most important thing you could do is create riveting content because let’s be honest if your content isn’t worth sharing there would be no analytics and insights to track. Content that inspires and moves people is shared daily, on all major social network platforms and email chains and tends to get shared over and over again.

Wrapping up

Consider how you may begin to harness the power of dark social now that you understand what it is and why you should pay attention to it. Always start by providing valuable, useful content that people will want to share, then utilise the tools at your disposal to narrow down your target demographic and measure activity.

If you are receiving underwhelming success when it comes to social media marketing or just want to learn more about social media management for your business, feel free to get in touch today!