What is ‘dark social’ and how is it affecting your business?

- September 28, 2022 4 MIN READ
Woman's hand using smartphone with social media reactions surrounding

Chances are, you’ve heard of the sinister underbelly of the internet. A place referred to as the ‘dark web’ – the enigmatic hidden websites where you can go rogue purchasing all matter of illegal items, and even hire cybercriminals. But what is dark social? Does it even exist? And if it does, what’s it doing to your brand? Social media strategist and coach, Emily-Rose Hills, explains. 

With visions of hunting down some exclusive backdoor password and logging onto some seedier version of Facebook, I was admittedly a little disappointed to discover that dark social has nothing to do with the dark web.

Instead, the term refers to content that can’t be traced by platform analytics. Instead, this content is shared privately via a messaging app, text message and email. Think of it as invisible shares.

You can see it’s been shared once, but then 20 more people may have clicked on the link, and you’d be none the wiser of where that traffic came from.

So, for example, if you were to go on the Sydney Morning Herald to share an article on the Oscars debacle, and you copied the URL and shared it via Facebook Messenger, you’ve just shared it through dark social.

The SMH team will get a notification that it was a direct share, but they can’t track how many people it was shared with beyond that. Dark social is not to be confused with dark posts (they look like sponsored ads but aren’t).

I have to admit, I thought it would be a little more exciting than that. However, it’s worth noting that around 80 per cent of content shared is believed to have come from dark social.

Woman sending text messages via Facebook Messenger

So how does dark social affect your brand?

The fact that it’s hard to track analytics and metrics on shares via private messages isn’t ideal for brands. The challenge is that 80 per cent is an incredible amount of missing data for content marketers to account for. It makes it harder for us marketers to work out where to spend our advertising dollars on socials.

Especially as dark social is becoming a more prevalent way to share content amongst friends; it’s more personal and less public.

With constant privacy issues and data breaches, social media users are slowly realising that perhaps the whole world doesn’t need to know every action they take. Therefore, sharing within groups, communities, and private messaging is becoming even more popular.

In good news for brands, however, dark social does have a more personal element to it, so it’s more authentic, right?!

Here’s why dark social isn’t necessarily a bad thing

It’s a bonus that dark social is more personalised. An existing relationship and recommendations from friends are more powerful than any link posted in a public forum or social network.

For example, when your best friend sends you a link via private message to a romantic restaurant or skincare recommendation, you’re more likely to click on it because you trust them.

Fun fact: sharing via messaging apps is set to supersede social sharing over the coming decade.

How can brands use dark socials to their advantage?

Start a community group around your product. You can provide social media users with a channel to hang out with others who use your products or services. Enlist your superfans to act as admins and moderators of content.

People trust people, so creating a space where people’s opinions are heard is key for any brand moving forward. You actively give your customers an option to vent, share or sing your praises via these channels. And that’s all valuable information you can use to better your products and service.

Shine some light on your dark socials

There are a few ways to try and get more of a handle on your dark social traffic.

Use a link shortener app like It’s an easy way to help you create short, trackable links.

You could also consider investing in GetSocial, a Software As A Service (SAAS) platform designed to follow dark socials. It has a free 14-day trial and scalable packages.

Before you jump in and start trying to track your dark social shares, you’ll want to start right back at the very beginning – creating shareable content. You can’t create shareable content if you don’t have a strategy or a ‘why’. Why would people follow you? Why would they share this content?

I am currently working with business owners to help them discover their content ‘why’ and create strategies so they can work towards designing value-driven content people want to share via dark social. If you would like to discuss your social strategy, you can book time in my calendar here.

This article first appeared on Kochie’s Business Builders, read the original here.

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