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Why dark social is overrated

Experts agree that as much as 85 per cent of online shares aren’t tracked. Ever stumble across an interesting blog post or article, copy and paste the URL into an email or a text message and share with a friend? The practice of sharing content one-on-one has been around since the dawn of the internet. It’s just that it now has a hot new industry buzzword – dark social.

In fact, dark social was to 2017 what storytelling was to 2016 (and curated content the year before). Important and relevant marketing topics; but with a name just trendy and convoluted enough to make the un-initiated feel like a veritable luddite.

Why should you care about dark social?

Dark social is content shared through private channels, including social media. Think texting, emails, messaging apps and more. Because dark social links don’t contain referrer data, they’re harder to track than content shared on public platforms – meaning many marketers don’t realize how much impact they really have. Much of the traffic that’s showing up as ‘direct’ or in your analytics is in fact, driven by dark social.

A case study from The Atlantic showed that dark social was actually responsible for nearly one in five referrals to the magazine’s website. In fact, only search drove more traffic. And not only does dark social heavily influence referral traffic, but it’s responsible for the lion’s share of social traffic as well.

Why is dark social overrated

In our effort to maximize metrics, marketers often can’t see the forest for the trees. Measuring dark social can be useful, for sure. And understanding that direct isn’t always direct on face value is extremely important. But spending valuable – and more importantly, limited – time and resources diving deep into dark social means you have less time to spend creating highly shareable and relevant content itself. The mission gets sidetracked in efforts to optimize traffic.

It’s also important to note that dark social isn’t new. It’s just that we’re only now realizing the power that sophisticated optimization tools can have in improving performance. But again, the power lies in using the data effectively to maximize reach, keeping in mind the corresponding opportunity cost. Is a ten per cent bump in traffic worth dedicating an extra ten, twenty or thirty per cent of your resources to? For most of us, the answer is a pretty clear-cut no.

The bottom line

Rather than relying so heavily on the metrics, the majority of marketers might be better served spending more time re-focusing on their core audience. Data is useful, but content is still king.

Moreover; for many marketers, big data will only get us part of the way to really getting to know our customers. When push comes to shove, most SMEs would be far better served going the extra mile to connect on a deeper level with stakeholders – past, present and future. Sophisticated metrics, software and analytical tools are sometimes used at the expense of tried-and-true methods like meeting customers face to face, taking advantage of the insights of employees in our organizations who are closest to the front lines and other feedback tools.

As we move into 2018, don’t forget that online engagement is only one piece of the puzzle and vanity metrics aren’t the only (or even best) measure of the real impact your content is creating. 

Jill KnaggsComment