Have you ever found something you liked on social and emailed it to a friend? Chatted a link to a co-worker instead of tagging them on LinkedIn?
Beware: You’re taking part in Dark Social.
Unlike the dark web or other scarily-monikered tech trends, dark social isn’t part of anything illegal or sketchy. Instead, it’s any social activity that happens that analytics can’t track. This keeps the publisher “in the dark,” so to speak, about where that traffic is coming from.
Let’s take the co-worker example.
As you’re cruising through LinkedIn, you find a great article to show your boss. When you are there on the article, are you going to go back to your LinkedIn? Of course not- you’ll grab the URL out of your browser and send it over to him. He clicks the link, reads a great article, and everyone wins, right?
Now imagine how those visits look through the eyes of the publisher.
They post an article on their LinkedIn page and can see, both in LinkedIn and in Google Analytics, your visit to their website.
However, that publisher has no idea how your boss came across the article. For all they know, he typed in “how to do business like a boss” as a guess. This search would result as a “direct traffic”. Though his visit came directly from a social campaign, none of the attribution or value goes back to social.
That’s dark social.
Since dark social is defined by its inability to be measured, it’s tough to quantify how much more of your traffic should be attributed to social media. However, setting your social posts up properly can help.
UTM codes are a standardized way of adding tracking to URLs. By adding these tracking codes to your URLs before you put them in your social media platform, you can increase the chances that those visits get attributed properly.
Back to the LinkedIn example. If the URL you sent your boss had UTM tracking appended, it would look something like this: www.example.com/how-to-do-business-like-a-boss?utm_source=linkedin. Then, Google Analytics would have known that his visit originated from LinkedIn, and automatically added him into your social numbers.
Though a great start, UTM codes don’t perfectly solve the problem. Many users delete the tracking code from the end of the URL, especially if they are too long. That same URL with all the attributes set would come with a whopping 125 extra characters: www.example.com/how-to-do-business-like-a-boss?utm_source=linkedin&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=social_media_push&utm_term=Business%20Boss&utm_content=LI_Business_Boss
While dark social can be frustrating, a few smart steps can help you keep your traffic sorted and give social media the respect it deserves.