Definition of Dark Social

Dark Social refers to the sharing of content through private channels, such as messaging apps, email, and text messages, that is not easily tracked by web analytics tools. Since these channels lack referral metadata, it becomes difficult for marketers to measure their impact on website traffic and overall performance. As a result, Dark Social poses a challenge for businesses to accurately analyze their marketing efforts and user engagement.


D – DeltaA – AlphaR – RomeoK – KiloS – SierraO – OscarC – CharlieI – IndiaA – AlphaL – Lima

Key Takeaways

  1. Dark Social refers to private and untraceable sharing of content such as messages, emails, and private groups, making it difficult to track and measure.
  2. It represents a significant portion of online sharing activity, potentially providing valuable insights into consumer behavior and preferences.
  3. Businesses and marketers can leverage Dark Social by focusing on creating shareable and engaging content to increase organic reach and by incorporating private messaging options on websites and apps for better customer interactions.

Importance of Dark Social

Dark Social is an important digital marketing term because it refers to the sharing of content via private channels, such as email, instant messaging apps, and other non-public platforms.

This type of sharing is challenging to track, as it does not come with referral data, making it difficult for marketers to accurately measure the true reach and impact of their campaigns.

Understanding and addressing Dark Social is crucial because it accounts for a significant portion of online sharing and engagement, often surpassing public social media channels.

By not taking Dark Social into consideration, marketers risk underestimating the full extent of their digital marketing effectiveness, leading to misinformed decisions and potentially missed opportunities to connect with audiences.


The purpose of Dark Social lies in its ability to give brands and marketers a better understanding of online user behavior and preferences, ultimately helping them to develop more effective marketing strategies. Dark Social refers to the sharing of content through private channels such as messaging apps, email, and direct messages on social media platforms, that are less transparent than public channels. These private communications are difficult to track, thus making it challenging for marketers to obtain accurate data about where their content is being shared and engaged with.

By putting in the effort to monitor Dark Social activities, marketers can gain insights into their target audience’s genuine interests and opinions, essentially helping them to identify trends, tweak their campaigns, and create content that resonates with their audience. Dark Social is particularly useful for brands looking to implement word-of-mouth marketing strategies or to engage in influencer marketing. Due to the private nature of these channels, users are more likely to have honest conversations and share recommendations with their peers.

By understanding the traffic generated through these less visible social channels, marketers can leverage the power of authentic user recommendations. Furthermore, by actively engaging with influencers within their niche, marketers can encourage the sharing of branded content through Dark Social and ultimately generate organic engagement with their target audience. This, in turn, can lead to improved brand credibility and increased customer loyalty.

Examples of Dark Social

Dark Social refers to the sharing of content via private channels and methods that cannot be accurately tracked by web analytics tools. Here are three real-world examples:

Messaging apps: WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or Telegram are popular messaging platforms where people often share links, articles, or other content with their friends and family. As these platforms are private and encrypted, marketers cannot track the sources of traffic, making it “dark social.”

Email: When people share online content with friends or colleagues through email, this doesn’t show up in standard web analytics tools. For example, if you copy a link from an interesting article and send it to a colleague via email, this sharing activity remains invisible to marketers, contributing to dark social.

Direct message on social media: Another dark social example is when users share content or links via direct messages (DMs) on social platforms like Instagram, Twitter, or LinkedIn. While these platforms technically fall under the social media umbrella, the sharing happens privately and cannot be tracked, unlike public posts or shares.

Dark Social FAQ

What is dark social?

Dark social refers to the sharing of content through private channels such as instant messaging apps, email, and direct messages on social media platforms. The term was coined by Alexis C. Madrigal in 2012 to describe social engagement that happens outside of public platforms and is difficult to track by traditional web analytics tools.

Why is dark social important?

Dark social is important because it represents a significant portion of online sharing activity that is not easily visible to marketers and researchers. Understanding and accounting for dark social can help businesses more accurately measure their social reach, engagement, and effectiveness of their content strategy. It can also aid in identifying potential audience segments, tailoring marketing communications, and improving overall marketing ROI.

How does dark social affect analytics?

Dark social can cause inaccuracies in analytics data because it’s challenging to track the source of traffic coming from private sharing channels. Due to this limitation, the traffic generated by dark social is often wrongly attributed as “direct” or “unknown” in analytics data, leading to incomplete or misleading insights about user engagement and the effectiveness of marketing efforts.

What are some examples of dark social channels?

Examples of dark social channels include messaging apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and WeChat; email communications; direct messages on social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram; and sharing through SMS or other private messaging services. These channels allow users to share content privately with individuals or groups outside of public view.

How can businesses track and leverage dark social?

To track and leverage dark social, businesses can use a combination of tactics such as implementing share buttons with tracking parameters, using link shorteners with analytics capabilities, and encouraging users to share through traceable channels. By obtaining a more accurate understanding of dark social engagement, businesses can develop better-targeted marketing strategies, adjust their content based on audience preferences, and improve overall campaign effectiveness.

Related Digital Marketing Terms

  • Dark Traffic
  • Private Messaging Apps
  • Untracked Social Shares
  • Non-Public Social Interactions
  • Measuring Dark Social Engagement

Sources for More Information

Reviewed by digital marketing experts

More terms

Guides, Tips, and More