Think about this for a moment.
When you’re browsing through your Twitter feed, you’ll likely see a ton of links. How many do you click? Maybe one or two out of hundreds, right?
Now, think about emails you receive from friends and associates. These aren’t marketing emails. Not emails you receive because you subscribed to a list. But emails a friend took time to send you.
If a friend emails you a link, how likely are you to click it?
My guess is that you’re pretty much certain to click.
Am I right?
Then maybe it’s time you joined the dark side…
What is Dark Social?
Let’s say you’re a typical website or blog.
If that’s the case, then a serious chunk of your traffic comes because people like something they’ve seen or read on your site, and they share it with their pals.
That’s social sharing. It’s what this blog is all about.
A lot of social sharing happens on Twitter, Facebook and other social media websites. When people find your blog or website through social media, you can track where they came from. As such, you can see how much traffic Twitter and Facebook send your way.
But social sharing is only the tip of the iceberg.
The majority of sharing is dark social sharing.
Dark social happens whenever you share a link with a friend via email, or using an instant messaging service such as Skype or Google Talk.
This kind of sharing is difficult to track. Yet by some estimates, it accounts for 72% of social shares.
What does all this mean for your social strategy?
How to Make the Most of Dark Social
Dark social sharing is actually older than social sharing. Sharing happened via email and instant messaging before any social networks were even conceived. It’s a practice that’s here to stay, so it’s vital that you incorporate it into your social media strategy.
According to the digital intelligence department at PriceWaterhouseCoopers, only about 10% of brands are paying attention to dark social at the moment. So by jumping on board now, you’re ahead of the game.
Here are our top tips to make the most of dark social.
Add “Share via Email” to Your Sharing Options
People are using email to share, so encourage it! Make it as easy as possible for readers to share your content.
WordPress plugins such as AddToAny can be installed to your site with just a few clicks, and at no cost. These plug-ins add email sharing on all your blog posts and pages.
Create Freaking Awesome Content
Yes, we’ve been preaching this sermon for years now. There is no way to “game” social media. There are no special secrets.
The best way to encouraging sharing is to create freaking awesome content that people can’t wait to share with their friends.
Alexis Madrigal, the deputy editor of The Atlantic who coined the phrase “dark social” put it this way:
The only real way to optimize for social spread is in the nature of the content itself. There’s no way to game email or people’s instant messages. There’s no power users you can contact. There’s no algorithms to understand. This is pure social, uncut.
(We disagree on the power users part, but more on that in a moment).
On the flip-side, if your content sucks, then whatever social strategy you employ to promote it will fail.
Of course, none of us can create a viral hit every day. But you can pour your heart and soul into everything you create.
Get Smart With Your Tracking
Dark social doesn’t have to remain dark – at least not to you.
There are tools you can use to shine a light on dark social, to give you a better picture of where your traffic is coming from.
Some dark social traffic is a result of people using third party apps, such as TweetDeck, to click social media links. You can configure Google Analytics to pick up this traffic for you. They’ve created a handy tutorial on how to do so over at Social Media Examiner.
You can also get a picture of how much traffic is coming through dark social by looking at direct traffic as a referral source.
When people click a link they’ve received via email, they’re likely to get bundled in with direct traffic. Any long URLs in direct traffic are likely to be the result of dark social sharing – because it’s unlikely that people actually typed those links into an address bar.
As Ginny Soskey of Hubspot explains:
If you see long, complicated URLs […] in your direct traffic that is most likely dark social.
Start Sharing via Email (Especially with Influencers)
When you create content that you want to go viral, be bold and share it via email. In particular, target influencers who you know would be interested in what you’ve created.
Why do this? Because dark social sharing works. As we’ve established, you’re much more likely to take an interest in a link you receive via email than in something that pops up in your Twitter feed.
When something’s in your inbox, you have to deal with it. When it’s in your Twitter feed, you can just wait for it to pass by.
Want to find out who the influencers are in your field? Then check out our Google Ripples tutorial.
Whatever You Do, DON’T Try to Block Email Sharing
One of the worst pieces of advice we’ve read online about dark social is to “try disabling” email sharing. The theory is that if you block email sharing, people will share through other channels.
How it would even be possible to block email sharing, we don’t know. But even so, it’s terrible advice. People who share via email want to share via email. So if you take away that option, they’ll just stop sharing.
Over to You
Do you have any other ideas for making the most of Dark Social? Let us know in the comments section, below.