People love sending links on social media. From skateboarding tree sloths to far more relevant topics, there are plenty of them to be sent. And experienced advertisers have taken advantage of this over the years.
Even so, dark social - such as IM, emails and texts - has quickly become the preferred method for sending links to one another. And by a pretty sizable margin.
Yeah, Dark Social Is A Big Deal
Dark social is far more personal than its show-off cousin social media. That’s because when someone shares a link on dark social with someone they know, it’s typically about a common interest. Or possibly a link to something that will help them solve a problem.
Where social media is a performance, dark social is an interaction. It’s genuine and real. And THIS is what users are demanding more of these days.
For example, let’s say you’re a purveyor of authentic scones. You know they’re authentic because British people say they’re the “dog’s bullocks” and, disturbing though this sounds, means they like them.
Anyhow, you’ve recently started baking savory scones and are offering them BOGO free with a link to a coupon. You can post this on Facebook, Twitter and the like. And it will be cast to a broad audience - some of whom will be interested and many of whom who will not. Whatever the case, you’ll able to use analytics to measure this.
In the mean time, dark social is all abuzz with discussion about your savory scones. And that’s not a euphemism. There were three chaps from jolly old London who came in two weeks ago who were thrilled when you told them you’d be offering savory scones soon. Now they’re texting and emailing fellow Brits - and even an Aussie - about your amazing scones.They’re talking about their experience at your bakery and sharing the coupon link with others who have a genuine love and appreciation for scones. One woman has been on a quest for the perfect scone at her weekly teas, and now she has the link too.
And this is what makes dark social so important. It cuts through all the digital noise. It’s the private world where your customers share what truly interests them with others who share that interest. Or again, as in the case of the woman with afternoon teas, where a problem can be solved.
Gaining Insight into Dark Social Sharing Is Crucial
And yet, as of now, all of those analytics tools that measure direct traffic cannot measure traffic that comes from dark social.
It’s likely that in the future, all messaging apps will offer chat bots who, in all their artificially intelligent grandeur, will be able to track every interaction with customers to help you measure success. And bully for them.
In the mean time, it’s not enough to just post your link, sprinkle it with fairy dust and then hope it moves through dark social networks. The key is to make those links as shareable and traceable as possible.
Start with A URL Shortener
If you want your content to get a lot of exposure, you have to initially link to the pages to which you want to drive traffic.
So when savvy marketers start an online campaign, they typically include links to relevant landing pages or social profiles. And that sounds all fine and good. The problem is, the links are too long and can’t be traced without an analytics platform. And as we’ve said, most analytics programs are unable to directly account for click-backs that are coming from dark social.
Enter the URL shortener. This bad boy comes in and creates short, easy-to-share, trackable links. But wait, there’s more. Most link shorteners include real-time analytics on click-backs which gives you data without your needing to invest in a full-service analytics dashboard. They also allow for segmentation of the incoming data.
Plus, people have a real thing for sharing shortened URLs. Especially when they’re customized with campaign- or brand-specific keywords. This just makes them more trustworthy than those drawn-out links riddled with numbers, symbols and, frankly, suspicion. And seeing a link with the name of a familiar company enables people who really want to view your content to know exactly what they’re getting. Thus, short URLs receive more shares and click-backs. So less is more.
Set Up Google Analytics to Get Estimates
Another method to estimate dark social is through customsegmentations in Google Analytics. You’ll notice we said estimate. Because, and we apparently can’t stress this enough, there’s no solid way to track dark social yet.
But these estimates will at least give you a clearer understanding of the percentage of direct traffic that came from people who shared a URL versus those who typed in the URL directly.
Here’s how you set it up:
1. Start by creating a custom segment to view direct traffic only. Then select Apply.
2. In Google Analytics, go to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages. You should see a list of your top visited pages via direct traffic.
3. Open an advanced filter to set up a series of dimensions that exclude pages that contain short subfolder names. (That’s the part of the URL after the domain, e.g., /contact.)
Once those pages are excluded, you’re left with only the long URL pages and it’s highly unlikely these were typed out when users came to your site.
Pay Attention to How You Interact
All of the tech tricks aside, this is really the best thing you can do in making dark social work for you right now.
And it’s part of the reason that “permission based” apps like Snapchat have become so popular. Rather than the willy-nilly broadcasting that has defined social media until recently, Snapchat requires you to engage and interact rather than just spew out post after post about your kids or what you ate for dinner. (Or worse, what your kids ate for dinner.)
Make The Most of Dark Social
To gain loyalty to your brand, you have to be willing to discuss, chat, dialog and be involved. You have to interact. Then once you have that interaction, you can directly provide a benefit (a game, wanted information, the solution to a problem) to the user.
Offering people incredible experiences at the right time is the power behind dark social.
And, lack of analytics aside, it shouldn’t be ignored.