The dark side of (Social)


When we think about social, the colours that come to mind are shades of blue, red, purple and yellow. Beautiful colours that light up our lives and connect us to people who we love and care about.

However, there is a dark side of social. And no, this is not one of those facebook hater posts, this is a thought piece on something that marketers are still getting a grasp of. In the digital marketing world, we call there is a phenomenon called ‘Dark Social’. 

What is Dark Social? 

Dark social any traffic that originates from a shared link that gets misattributed to direct traffic instead of social traffic.

If you are wondering wt* does that mean – Here is an easy way of thinking about it:

When a marketer pushes some content on facebook, they add UTM tagging so that when they analyse their traffic in Google Analytics – they know where those people came from i.e. ‘xx’ channel brought me ‘yy’ users.

However, when people share this content – these UTM tags are lost if they copy paste the link and send it via a messaging app or email instead. (Guilty as charged: Sometimes even I copy paste links and send it to Whatsapp groups). As a result of this, traffic is often misattributed to ‘direct’ and leads to brands optimising towards the wrong channel mix.

Analysts estimate that 50% – 70% of sharing activity actually comes from Dark Social.

How do we measure it? 

A way of measuring this would be to:

  1. Understand the landing pages that your traffic comes to
  2. If users are landing directly into content / article pages – it is safe to assume that they might not be typing in ’40 word URL’s’
  3. Exclude these content/ article pages from all the traffic
  4. This should only leave you with traffic that comes to the home page (or topic pages)

The % of traffic that lands directly onto content pages through ‘direct traffic’ as a percentage of overall traffic is dark – they probably came through social channels and ‘lost their way’.

What could brands do? 

I think Step #1 is understanding and truly appreciating the traffic that comes via dark social. If the % is well over 50%, it is time to start prioritising this. Budgeting allocations and channel prioritisation should take this form traffic into the equation.

Second, some brands are using URL shorteners so that users can sort of remember them and share it without stripping them naked of their UTM tags.

Third, integrating sharing widgets on content pages is super important. Some brands are even testing these widgets with Whatsapp and other messaging platforms.



With the onset of mobile, and ‘multi-apping’ dark social is only going to be in the limelight. It’s like the elephant in the room who no one acknowledges but is right there – big and prominent. I guess the real question is – are we going to truly care about it or just all become ‘comfortably numb’?



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