Business Marketing

Delving into the shadows: Understanding dark social and its attribution challenges.

Delving into the shadows: Understanding dark social and its attribution challenges.

On a recent call, I briefly tapped into the concept of 'dark social' and the challenges of attribution. I noticed a few eyes glazing over, but bear with me. This topic is crucial for anyone in the digital marketing space.

If you're unfamiliar with the term 'attribution', it essentially means identifying which user actions lead to a desired outcome and assigning a value to each of those actions. In simpler terms, it's about pinpointing where your traffic and conversions originate from.

Understanding dark social

Why is it called "dark" social?

The term "dark social" might sound mysterious, and that's because it is. It refers to the private and often unseen ways people share content online. This includes direct messaging, emails, private groups, and podcast mentions. The 'dark' in dark social stems from the fact that this type of sharing is 'invisible' or 'dark' to traditional analytics tools.

The power and challenge of dark social

Dark Social is incredibly effective when it comes to word-of-mouth and recommendation traffic. These private shares can drive significant traffic but are not easily traceable. This is where the challenge lies. Its intimate nature makes it challenging to measure and attribute correctly.

Insights into Dark Social:

  1. Everyone uses dark social: Almost everyone engages in some form of dark social, whether sending an email, texting, or browsing a private Facebook group.
  2. Impact on analytics: Dark social can account for significant referral traffic. For instance, in 2023, 100% of TikTok profile clicks and clicks from private messaging apps like Slack and Discord were attributed to dark social.
  3. Reaching new audiences: Dark social media can help businesses reach less active audiences, such as older adults, on traditional social media.
  4. Valuable information: Dark social channels, like private Facebook groups or forums, often centre around advice and recommendations. Understanding these conversations can provide businesses with valuable insights.

Strategies to navigate dark social:

  • Use a URL shortener for accurate analytics measurement.
  • Set up UTMs and referral links for tracking.
  • Implement a social listening strategy to monitor brand mentions and conversations.
  • Make sharing easy by adding sharing buttons with UTM parameters.
  • Create company-owned private communities for direct engagement with loyal fans.
  • Be transparent about data usage and respect privacy concerns.
Strategies to navigate dark social


Dark social offers a goldmine of opportunities for businesses to connect with their audience more personally and directly. By understanding the customer's dark social journey and implementing robust tracking strategies, we stand a better chance of linking attribution. 

By understanding and leveraging dark social, companies can gain deeper insights, reach new audiences, and enhance their marketing strategies.

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