How to Start Tracking Dark Social Activity for Better Marketing Attribution

84% of social sharing happens via “dark social,” which is impossible to capture via traditional analytics. Marketers who can accurately track and amplify sharing across dark channels could boost their brand footprints by a massive margin. Scroll down to learn:

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  • What is dark social and its benefits 
  • Two hacks to monitor its effects on your content
  • Audience types to consider when tracking dark social analytics 

Increasingly, a new category of customer traffic is coming into focus. This is termed dark social media. As Joao Romao, Founder of explained in an earlier article on why it’s time to shine the light on dark social, it doesn’t refer to “some ominous, undercover meetup”. Dark social is simply a method used by your customers to share content and ideas on a one-on-one basis.

Let’s look at how dark traffic is impacting your marketing outcomes, and how you can get started with dark social tracking for better marketing attribution.

Learn more: Understanding Dark Data in the context of Customer Experience

What is Dark Social? 

Typically, every blog post, video, or piece of online marketing content will carry an embedded share button. When a user clicks on this, to share the post on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter, the unique UTM contained within the button lets you track the traffic source and perform accurate marketing attribution.

Dark social is slightly different. For a source of traffic to be deemed dark social, a reader simply copies the page URL and pastes it into their preferred sharing channel. This could be Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp or WeChat, or even a simple text SMS. When the user’s friends or family click on the link, they are directed to your website, but it’s not clear how they’ve reached your site. 

There are several benefits to dark social:

  • The link comes from a trusted friend, family member, or known associate. This means that the recipient is more likely to open it, peruse the entirety of the content, and consider subscribing to your website for further material. 
  • Dark social lets your customers share their individual opinions. For example, a person who purchased a lipstick might share the product with friends with similar tastes. Therefore, dark social analytics will reveal a highly targeted, conversion-ready audience.
  • Your most popular products and content will garner more views, giving your brand an instantaneous, organic “endorsement.” Tracking dark social could indicate which marketing tactics are working best with your existing customers – and even untapped audiences. 

But the problem with dark social is that it offers little control to marketers. When a user clicks on a copy-pasted link, it will appear as direct traffic to analytics programs. As a result, your analytics will indicate that the user typed out the page URL – when, in reality, they received it via dark social. 

This is why dark social tracking is so critical. First, it will ensure that dark social media doesn’t get confused with direct traffic, and skew your data. Second, you can identify exactly which assets resonate with your audience and channel investments accordingly. 

Learn more: Social Media Management vs. Social Media Monitoring – What’s the Difference?

How to Get Started with Tracking Dark Social Traffic – Two Strategies 

As you can imagine, dark social analytics continues to be a channel for most marketers. Research suggests that social sharing of content halved between 2015 and 2017. On the other hand, 84% of all sharing takes place via dark channels. This is why marketers often struggle to track the real source of traffic and make accurate social media attributions.

There are two ways to solve this – let’s look at both approaches for better dark social tracking, in greater detail. 

1. Use a dedicated dark social tracking software platform

If you run a content-heavy marketing strategy, allocating a specific budget for dark social tracking software can be quite rewarding.

There are a number of tools out there, like which lets you measure your dark traffic volumes using a free calculator before investing in the platform. GetSocial’s web analytics feature identifies what content is performing best, which channels are used most frequently, and the geographies where your most loyal users are situated.

There is also AddThis, which offers Address Bar Sharing Analytics – providing visibility into page URL copy-paste frequency. Tools like these can help jump-start your dark social tracking initiative, without any additional efforts or reconfiguration to your existing analytics systems.

2. Modify Google Analytics reports to track dark social

Did you know that you can track dark social media right from your Google Analytics dashboard? While there is no built-in feature called “dark social tracking,” five simple configurations can get you started:

  1. Navigate to the Audience Overview section on your website analytics dashboard. 
  2. From the Add Segment option, select Direct Traffic as the only tracking parameter. 
  3. Now comes the tricky part. You have to manually deselect any webpage with a memorable URL that can actually be typed by the customer.For example, your homepage (, the blogs section (, company information ( and the like will receive direct traffic.On the other hand, marketing assets with a longer URL such as should be analyzed for dark social traffic.  
  4. Under the Site Content option in the Behavior segment, click on the Advanced button. By default, it will tell you to include specific pages in the report. Instead, choose the Exclude feature and type in the list of memorable URLs you identified earlier. 
  5. Add as many URLs as you can and apply the filter.  

By following these five steps, you can use your existing Google Analytics functionality to track dark social. With a little time and effort, this can be a simple and viable option – especially if the number of memorable URLs is limited. 

Learn more: Google Analytics Tutorial for Right-Brained Marketers: 4 Hacks You Didn’t Know

Who is Sharing on Dark Social Media?

Given the extremely targeted and personal nature of dark sharing, you should be tracking dark social with an eye on two customer types:

  • A macro-audience interested in a specific topic or product category.
  • Micro-tribes looking for highly specific information on product variance, recent trends, and professional areas of operation.  

Dark social analytics can reveal valuable information about how to realign your content to better engage these customer categories. Importantly, it lets you dig deeper into the nature, preferences, and behavioral patterns of your customer base and – as said earlier – you can gradually tweak your marketing campaigns and product narrative to make it more relevant to customer expectations and ongoing discussions. 

Closing Thoughts

Dark social promises immense potential for your brand: 83% of customers in the US are more likely to buy a product if recommended by a friend or family member. This phenomenon is an important conduit, organically reaffirming product quality, establishing customer trust, and positioning you as an industry leader to a conversion-ready audience.

How are you tracking dark social and its impacts? Tell us on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter.