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We bet, if you are reading the term “Dark Social” for the first time, you must be linking it to the “Dark Web“. In fact, no matter what you think at first, but Dark Social has nothing to do with the Dark Web. In this article, we will explain what is dark social traffic and why is it important for your business.

The term Dark Social may sound very phishing, scaring or suspicious, but it simply refers to a social sharing feature that digital marketers or web analytics software cannot accurately track.

What Is Dark Social?

  • The term Dark Social was coined by the American journalist Alexis C. Madrigal of The Atlantic in 2012.
  • Dark Social refers to traffic generated by social sharing outside of what can be measured with web analytics platforms.

For example, if a user clicks on a link to your site from an open social platform such as Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter, your analytics platform will track and tell you exactly where that referral came from.

But the users are also sharing links through private messaging apps like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, or platforms like email or SMS.

Links shared in this way do not have referral tracking tags. Therefore, when the recipient clicks on it, their visit will appear as “direct traffic” on the analytics tracking platform.

These links are sometimes mistakenly referred to as direct traffic by tracking platforms such as Google Analytics. This poor attribution data occurs because social sharing in private messaging channels does not return any redirected or referral data.

Here are some of the common channels responsible for dark social traffic:

  • Native mobile apps: Facebook, Instagram, etc.
  • Email: To protect user privacy, referrers are not forwarded.
  • Messaging App: WhatsApp, WeChat, Facebook Messenger, etc.
  • Safe Browsing: If you click from HTTPS to HTTP, the referrer will not be forwarded.

It’s basically dark social media traffic that’s bundled in direct traffic to your analytics platform but actually comes from referrals that can’t be traced.

Why is Dark Social important for Digital Marketing Professionals?

  • Because of its name, Dark Social can often frighten people into accepting that it is a bad thing that must be avoided.
  • Apart from those who speculate that Dark Social is related to the Dark Web, which in fact is not true. Other misconceptions have arisen and marketers may still be confused as to its true nature.
  • Aside from the fact that this data can be difficult to track, it’s not that bad in reality.
  • Plus, it’s practically impossible to prevent it from happening.
  • If you do not have a clear picture, you may be wasting your time and energy in adjusting the wrong things. But you also need to consider the value of this type of traffic.

For example, If I find a link to a product on a website that I think the other person would like and email or message that link to them, it won’t be wrong to say that it is likely to convert.

So dark social traffic is extremely valuable. It’s actually word of mouth between people who may know each other well. Most probably they will communicate through something like private messaging apps, SMS, or email.


Many businesses mistakenly assume that they already know their audience well, but hopefully, after reading this blog, it is now clear that Dark Social should not be ignored. It is as important as any other social data to lead your marketing strategy.

As more and more online users look for encrypted options as their preferred communication method to ensure the privacy of their conversations, Dark Social traffic is very far from going away. Dark Social channels are always where the most shares are made and where most referrals come from.

Ultimately, the importance you give to Dark Social and how you use it depends on your goals.