"Oh, great," you may be thinking, "Not another term for me to memorize. Does this dark social thing even matter?" Yes, yes it does – and it's good news for you, without you doing anything about it!
"Dark social" was a phrase coined a few years ago by Alexis Madrigal, who was working on a piece examining the trends of SEO and website metrics. The thesis of the piece was that there's still a lot we don't know about social media because it can't really be measured, at least not by anything we've come up with yet. Over time, online channels have proliferated and dark social activity is actually more common now than it's ever been. So let's jump into a few FAQs, and why it's a good thing for your content engagement.
What Is Dark Social?
It is any social shares that you're getting for your content, but that aren't getting measured as social activity. The most common example is sharing a URL link. People can share URL links (and often do) on forums, in email messages, in all sorts of instant messaging services in texts, and social media posts. When someone clicks on that link, it acts exactly like it would if they did an online search and found it themselves. In other words, you'll see your web traffic for that page go up, but behind the scenes there's a whole lot of social activity that you don't see happening.
Why Is It a Good Thing?
More social activity is always a good thing! (We're in marketing over here, what did you expect us to say?) But specifically, it means that your social efforts are probably paying off more than your data shows – more people are talking about and referencing your content and products than you can measure.
The reason that this social activity is "dark" is because it's hidden from sight, not because it's in any way bad. Sure it would be nice to have more information about how people share web links and similar content – and collectively we're working on it – but for now there's not much to worry about. Just be aware that social efforts are probably bearing more fruit than you can see, and factor that into your ROI a bit. Sorry that we can't be more specific than "a bit" but that's sort of the point here.
Is There Anything I Should Be Doing About It?
There are two things that you can do which will, in fact, make this social activity more likely. Fortunately, they're also just generally good SEO practices, so there's no downside to them.
- Share Buttons: Make sure that your pages – including your product pages, if possible – have share buttons so that visitors can instantly pop the link over to their social media posts or messages. The share button should be very visible, and sharing should be available for multiple social networks. There are literally hundreds of plugins that can help you with this, so pick the right ones carefully.
- URL Management: Create short, to-the-point URLs and use URL shorteners when you are sharing your own content. Sharing an enormous web address is a pain, and fewer people will do it.
Dark social isn't necessarily so dark when you know that your content engagement is reaching more people in the marketplace than what your data might be showing!