How do you measure social media ROI? Go to the dark side

Posted by Mikki Ware on May 20, 2015


Have you ever looked at the traffic to your website from social media and thought it didn’t look quite right? Does your direct traffic seem unusually high? You might be experiencing what Alexis Madrigal calls DARK SOCIAL. In short, dark social is when people copy and paste content or links from a website and share it with friends (or even just one friend) as opposed to sharing from a social network or social share button. Confused? Okay, here is a real world scenario: You are trolling the Internet for great content to share on Twitter, and come across the ultimate Buzzfeed list about the Mad Men series finale. Instead of using a social share button, you opt to cut and paste the URL and instant message the link to your co-worker. Congratulations, you have just engaged in dark social. This situation also applies to sharing links in an email, a text, or even on your computer screen while someone looks over your shoulder.

This creates a data nightmare because analytics software is not able to track the source of the link. According to Madrigal, almost three quarters (69%) of social referrals come from dark social; 20% from Facebook. A study done by RadiumOne shows that, worldwide, 70% of all shares about personal finance come from dark social; 61% in the US. The RadiumOne report also states that, because of the “intimate and relevant nature” of dark social, these shares tend to carry more weight than a Facebook post or retweet. In other words, people share certain content for specific reasons – and knowing these reasons provides businesses with valuable insight into consumer interests.


How do you measure dark social?

Believe it or not, there are a couple of ways to measure and act on your dark social traffic:

Link shorteners

– Using a trackable link shortener can give you insights into how people are interacting with your content. For example, GREMLN links track click counts, referral URL’s, and geo location, allowing you insight into content performance and audience behavior. Watch a short video on creating links and associated data:


– A parameter is a small snippet of code manually added to the end of a website link in order to track traffic sources. For example, if you create a link for a Twitter post, you would do something like

When you check traffic sources using your analytics tool, that link would tell you everything you need to know. The exception to this is if the link is shared on a platform other than the source listed. This traffic is then bucketed into direct traffic, which could explain unusually high numbers in this area. Look for links that no reasonable person would type directly into a browser

These links are most likely coming from dark social.

Obviously there’s no way to prevent dark social sharing, but knowing it’s out there can add another dimension to your social media strategy. Have you checked your dark social data? Share comments on the Gremln Facebook page!

Topics: Business, gremln, social media, Social Media, Social Media Education, strategy, twitter

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