Dark Social is Dangerous

Dark social — we can’t see it and don’t know what it is, but it’s here. And we should fear it.

It’s shocking.

As publishers, bloggers and writers, we don’t know squat about dark social.

It’s true, I don’t!

Okay. Back to the beginning.

Dark social refers to shared content that isn’t tracked.

We can see if our stuff has been posted on social media platforms because we can see we’ve been sent referral traffic via those platforms.

Google Analytics tells us this.

But if those links are shared via other social channels: Email, Slack, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Whatsapp etc. and people click through, we don’t get told.

It’s registered as normal traffic, labelled as direct traffic.

So we don’t know that those links have been shared between people.

We’re in the dark.

Dig deeper and it becomes a bigger problem.

75% of all online referrals in the UK come from dark social.

(How this study discovered the stat, I’ll never know.)

But you won’t know what those referrals are and where they came from.

So then you think: “Well, whatever. I must be doing something right.”

But that is exactly the problem.

You don’t really know what that something is.

Google Analytics doesn’t tell us what the shareworthy content is just like the built-in analytics on this WordPress blog won’t.

So actually, you have no idea where to focus your writing and optimising.

Your data isn’t accurate; you don’t have the full picture.

Worse still, this is traffic which is shared privately with friends and family so it has immense social proof.

It’s first class word of mouth, which we know is usually high converting.

Which then, absolutely means that this sort of site traffic isn’t “normal traffic.”

(Okay, so I know a little about dark social.)

Slapton Sands, a beach in south-west England, was the venue for one of World War Two’s biggest rehearsals.

The beaches were long, wide and almost identical to those across the channel in France.

Codenamed Operation Tiger, the plan was to get landing boats with men, tanks and equipment into the channel and then simulate a landing event.

But the soldiers weren’t told it was a rehearsal.

The soldiers were kept in the dark.

The aim was to expose the soldiers to environmental factors they would have to deal with in any sea-to-land invasion.

They were even exposed to live shellfire and gunfire.

As the ships made their way towards the British shore, a German patrol fleet picked up their enormous presence in the channel on radar.

The Germans attacked and the damage to the Allied fleet was catastrophic. Many were hit by torpedoes and sank.

Next, the Allied Command from London ordered the ships to flee.

Leaving hundreds of soldiers behind to die in the icy waters.

Some even drowned because they weren’t shown how to use their lifejackets.

But it didn’t stop there.

Live fire was still shelling the beaches – they weren’t told to stop.

So, as the surviving ships rushed back towards the shore to get away from the German E-boats torpedoing them, they came under friendly fire.

And within minutes hundreds more lost their lives on the beach.

When it was all over, nearly a thousand men were dead for no reason.

More lives were lost on this D-Day rehearsal than on D-Day itself.

The soldiers had no idea what to do because they weren’t told anything by the people who were supposed to be telling them everything.

The Allied Command didn’t even inform the families of those perished about what happened.

I think the incident serves as a reminder of dark social.

Where what we don’t know can hurt us more than what we do know.

What content works best for our websites, our blogs, and our campaigns?

What is shareworthy?

What else aren’t we told by Google Analytics?

Who knows.

For business blogging, this is serious stuff as we are paid to know how people are sharing our content and what content that may be.

For professional bloggers, this is everything as every blog post’s success is vital to a writer’s survival.

Adding more social buttons won’t help either because 87% of all shares are made by copy-and-pasting a URL.

The worst stat of them all is that only 4% of marketing people see dark social as a challenge.

Probably because we don’t know that dark social exists in the first place.

Was this useful? If so, please help share by copy-and-pasting the URL onto your social platforms and channels!

30 thoughts on “Dark Social is Dangerous

  1. Well, we know about it now. I am very cautious about what I write, anyway, just because family and members of my Faith are on all my social media sites, and they are vigilant.

  2. This is terrifying but in terms of how to go about solving this, it would be difficult to know how to do so. If we take a look at Facebook anyone can screenshot posts and statuses and we just wouldn’t know. A person can only go so far by copyrighting work but we still wouldn’t know where to track those who share an individual’s content, so in the rare event it is found, copywriting is probably the only guarantee… albeit an expensive guarantee.
    Great article, I always look forward to reading your posts! 🙂

  3. Interesting info. I’m aware of the dark web and also know to be careful what I share online. I think one of the words offenders is Facebook. Which I’m not a fan of that site at all. I’m careful what I share everywhere you never know who’s looking! 🙂 Thank you for following my blog! 🙂

  4. Gareth, Great post re “dark social” & analogy to the Normandy dress rehearsal disaster… did not know that bit of terrible history. Looks like a great website you have. I must take a look around! Phil from excuseusforliving.com

  5. I started my WordPress blog because my family was on Facebook. They don’t get along with each other but they all talk to me and it was a problem if I posted something dealing with one that didn’t include the other. Also I don’t post anything really dirty but if a funny meme comes along I would share it. Sometimes I would get slack about it. So I started the blog and didn’t tell them and I do NOT link my blog back to my Facebook. The whole idea of social medial is to be yourself. I wish that my family was adult enough (we are all over 50 years old!!) to accept the person I am.

  6. Great article.

    I do agree that what you don’t know about something can be more harmful than what you don’t, but as someone who does link WP to Facebook, LinkedIn, and a couple of other places, here is what I have noticed. Facebook for one, will not put a linked article in the feed for your friends list UNLESS you set your profile to “public”. Mine is private so I have to tag anybody I might know is interested or would be interested in the subject, specifically. And then, if they don’t have a WP account, they can’t read the article anyway.

    Needless to say I am none too thrilled with either WP or FB for that. But on the few occasions where people have liked a link (usually for the photos lol), FB has logged it. LI logs views and likes and I get a lot of logs, but not many likes or comments so I am not sure if people are able to read the WP content or not. Basically, what I will probably end up doing is making use of FB Notes for cross-posting content from WP to FB, and the LI Articles feature in LI to see if this generates more commentary at least.

    I also plan to look into Medium and Patreon eventually; I chose WP to get around that forced ‘pay to play’ but since WP is using me to hopefully generate more blogs and bloggers, I may as well.

    I admit I probably should be more concerned with content getting stolen but eh…I guess I don’t really see why anyone would want to lol.

    Thanks for the like and follow too. 🙂

    1. I think it no doubt did help. But they had to learn those lessons the hard way and you have to wonder if the loss of life to that extend was necessary. Thanks again, Emma.

  7. Thanks for introducing the concept of dark social to many of us ignorant people out there. It’s seems scary but need a lot more clarity and understanding as you did mention. Looking forward to more simplistic explanations and parallels to gain better insight and knowledge.

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