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What Is Dark Social And How Can You Use It To Your Business' Advantage?

Updated: Aug 28, 2019

When you first hear the term “dark social” it can seem like it’s referring to something sinister and illegal where nothing good happens, similar to the “dark web”. But nothing could be further from the truth. The term was coined by Alexis C. Madrigal, and it simply refers to “the social sharing of content that occurs outside of what can be measured by web analytics programs.” This type of social sharing is driven primarily by mobile and messaging.

How To Use Dark Social To Your Business' Advantage

Dark Social is all the effort you've put into social media and content marketing that doesn't get any credit. - Unknown

The most common dark social channels today are:

  • Whatsapp

  • Facebook Messenger

  • Facebook Instant Articles

  • Instagram

  • Email

  • Snapchat

  • Private & Secure Browsing (https://)

What makes these channels “dark social channels” is that when content is shared no referrer code is passed, therefore traffic from these channels will be attributed to direct traffic in web analytics, making it hard to determine which channels are producing the most traffic. One way around this is to use tools that can help you track dark social (eg. URL shorteners like can also help you track your links and better understand your clicks and shares.

With dark social sharing accounting for 84% of content shared on the web, it’s definitely not something businesses can afford to ignore. Today’s consumer is opting more and more for one-to-one social interaction and the fact that dark social accounts for such a large piece of the social sharing pie indicates that this is the preferred way to share the content that matters. If you’re looking for ways to connect with your audience and reach them where they are, dark social is a great place to start. Here are some ways that you can use a few of the most popular dark social channels to your business’ advantage.


1.2 Billion Facebook users communicate via Facebook Messenger daily. Recognizing the power of this channel, Facebook has made it easier for businesses to engage in private conversations with their audiences. As a business you can:

  • Activate Messages on your Facebook page so that your audience can start conversations with you privately.

  • Add a Facebook Messenger bot to your website to allow website visitors to chat with you instantly. Use a URL shortener to track clicks from any content you share with customers through FB messenger.

  • Use Facebook’s new “click to messenger” ad objective to drive conversations with your targeted audience at scale. You can move customers from mere interest to action by having one to one conversations that can address their questions on the spot, generate leads and drive sales. (NB. This ad objective is not yet available to all advertisers worldwide. Read more about it here.)


More than 1 billion people use WhatsApp daily to communicate with friends, family and even their favourite businesses. WhatsApp is currently in the pilot phase of a new WhatsApp for Business. It’ll be interesting to see what features will be made available for businesses. Until then here are a few ways to take advantage of the current WhatsApp:

  • Add WhatsApp as a communication channel for your customers to contact you and send queries and/or orders. Advertise it along with your other contact information.

  • Ask customers if they would like to receive occasional broadcasts with deals and offers exclusive to your WhatsApp audience.

  • Use WhatsApp status stories to keep your audience up to date with what’s going on in your company. Include links and remember to use a URL shortener to track clicks.


About 375 million people worldwide use Instagram Direct Messages. They use it to share disappearing videos and photos with friends and family, and even public posts from accounts they follow. Here are a few ways that you can use it to your advantage as a business:

  • Encourage your followers to Direct Message you with any queries or bookings. Once the conversation has started you can always reach out again if you have any specific news that would be of interest to those followers. For example, someone inquires about a particular product or service, and then it goes on special later on. You can use that opportunity to re-engage and let them know.

  • Reach out to your most engaged followers to offer them a little “surprise and delight” or give them first dibs or a sneak peek of new products or services.

  • Use it for contests and giveaways. Have users send you direct messages with answers to questions or photos/videos of themselves completing a required action.

  • When you share content via direct message, send trackable links so that the recipient can simply click to open the page from the app (an advantage over public Instagram posts where followers have to copy the link and go out of the app to paste into a browser or go to your profile and click the link in your bio).

As #darksocial continues to dominate social sharing, it will become more and more important for businesses to adapt and learn how to use these channels more effectively. It will be interesting to see how they evolve in the future to make it even easier for consumers and businesses to deepen relationships and continue to share what moves us.

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