Dark social: there is light in the darkness

August 2016: the internet was in uproar. Photos of a naked Orlando Bloom were spreading across the internet and social media like wildfire. A hot topic which was discussed around plenty of coffee machines but a hell for the online marketers on the editorial teams of publications such as the Mirror, who posted the photos on their website. As the article was shared via Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, email and other channels with no tags or URL parameters, it was impossible for them to trace where all the web traffic came from. It might look like ‘direct traffic’, but this is certainly not the case. In this article, we wish to highlight a phenomenon which is known in the trade jargon as dark social.

It is getting easier and easier to share things, mainly thanks to messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger, WeChat and WhatsApp. No less than 70 to 80% of social traffic - people who end up on your website by clicking on a link in social media -comes in via dark social and is registered in Google Analytics as “direct traffic”. Or did you really think that people were typing directly into their address bar?

This means that a huge marketing opportunity is there for the taking. Research by RadiumOne shows that 46% of consumers aged 55 and above only share via dark social, in contrast to 19% of people aged between 16 and 34. In addition, dark social has become ubiquitous in sectors such as personal finance, food & drink and travel.

Below are a few tips to help you get to grips with this phenomenon.

Tip 1 – UTM tags & URL shorteners

This tip mainly applies to your own social sharing ritual. Are you planning to share that interesting infographic, exciting blog post or fascinating video from your website in social media land? If you are, don't forget to run the URL through the Google link builder and add the necessary parameters. Then have the long URL shortened by a URL shortener before you share it. We recommend the following URL shorteners:

The UTM parameters allow you to check in Google Analytics which channel your URL was picked up on to generate traffic to your website.

Tip 2 – Social sharing buttons

Adding sharing buttons to your website reduces the chance of your content being shared via dark social. We've all seen them, those icons for social media channels which are generally located below, above or next to an article. Of course, there's no need to include them all. As soon as you know which social media channel is used most often by your audience, all you need to do is add these buttons with traceable links (see tip 2). Email, Facebook and WhatsApp must certainly be included, however.

Tip 3 – Tools, tools, tools is a free tool which gives you the information you need about your Dark Social Traffic. Their social sharing buttons & pop-ups allow you to make your content traceable. If you would rather implement your own buttons, you can just opt to use the Analytics section.


AddThis and are both tools for which a little more coding knowledge is required. Once you've worked your way through their Social Dark Tracking setup, however, it's child's play to add their code snippet to your website.

Get The Code

Finally, there is ShareThis. This is a sharing tool which allows users to share any piece of content via email, direct message or SMS. However, in the customisation menu you can tick the “Measure copy and shares of your website’s URLs” option. This generates a piece of code which you can install on your website. As soon as someone shares your content via dark social, it is traced on the basis of the code.


Admittedly, dark social still remains a little mysterious. However, in view of the high share of website traffic and the growing importance of being able to trace your content, it is well worth getting to grips with this phenomenon. Given the right tools, it is quite possible to unravel the mystery little by little. In the end, the principle remains the same: create content which people are more than happy to share. So if you feel like sharing this article via email or WhatsApp, we won't stop you.

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It's more than digital, it's your business
The Reference is nothing without its customers. Melexis is the stock market-listed global player in the semi-conductor and sensors industry for whom we facilitated future company growth by updating the brand, building the completely new corporate website and giving shape to the use of online channels. Read more about this client.