You may have done all the right things to boost your online visibility, such as regularly posting content on all major social media sites and even starting a company blog. You may also actively monitor traffic to see how successful your social media efforts are so you can use those insights to more accurately target your efforts.
But despite all the traffic analytic insights you gather, you may not be aware that you're not seeing the full picture. That's because you might not take into account social media sharing that goes under the radar. If your business is in a non-technical field, it's likely you haven't heard about "dark social" sharing. Being in the dark about this phenomenon can prevent you from fully profiting from your social media efforts.
What Is Dark Social?
The term "dark social," which was coined in 2012 by editor Alexis C. Madrigal in The Atlantic, refers to Web traffic that can't be tracked through Web analytics programs. That's because this traffic stems from people sharing content privately rather than publicly through social media sites from which traffic can be measured. Private sharing is done by copying and pasting the content, or the link to the content, and sharing it through email or mobile messaging apps such as WhatsApp.
Links shared this way don't have identifiers, known as "referral tags," attached to the end of the URL. Without the referral tags, you're in the dark if you're trying to determine where the social media traffic for your content is taking place.
A study recently released by RadiumOne reveals that the dark social sharing factor may be too big to ignore. Among U.S. consumers who share online, approximately 92 percent include dark social among their channels for sharing.
What's more, visible sharing via Facebook and all other public sharing channels combined accounts for only 31 percent, while dark—or invisible—sharing accounts for 69 percent of all sharing worldwide.
This means the insights you get about your Web traffic leave you somewhat in the dark because you don't know exactly where a large part of your visitors come from. If you can't trace the source with accuracy, you're not able to get the full picture, for example, of what engagement your posts are generating. This can curtail your ability to increase traffic from sources that are paying off for your efforts. And ultimately, it can lessen your success in growing your customer base and increasing profits.
The dark social percentage may be particularly significant for you if your target audience consists of those ages 55 and older. According to RadiumOne's research, 46 percent of consumers in that age bracket share only via dark social, as opposed to those in the 16-34 age group, where only 19 percent do so.
Some industries may also be more affected than others. For example, if your business is in personal finance, food and drink, travel or executive search, more than 70 percent of social sharing is done through dark social.
1. Be aware that your meticulous tracking of social media traffic may not be complete.
2. Follow developments in this area so you can benefit from improvements in tracking dark social as they take place.
3. Make sure that the sharing buttons for your content are easy for visitors to spot quickly by giving some thought to their strategic placement. On some sites, customers have to scroll to find the sharing button. Other sites don't make it clear, at a glance, which are "connect" buttons and which are "share" buttons. These minor annoyances can discourage sharing for busy visitors.
4. Add a button for "share by email."
5. Shorten URLs. RadiumOne recommends shortening URLs for all your content to make links easier to track. The company's research reveals that shortened urls are shared more and result in more people clicking on a link, say, in an email.
6. Consider getting technical help from experts in this area to ensure you're using the best available methods of tracking traffic. This could be a worthwhile investment.
Bruna Martinuzzi is the founder of Clarion Enterprises Ltd., and the author of two books: Presenting with Credibility: Practical Tools and Techniques for Effective Presentations and The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow.
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