What is the best way to track dark social activity?


Dark social has troubled marketers for a long time because a significant proportion of all referrals come from unknown sources, namely private messaging apps and word of mouth. 

Anecdotally, we know this to be true in B2B. Senior leaders rarely reach out to request for a demo, nor will they download a whitepaper to research a solution. Instead, they will reach out to peers for advice over a call or text, and then assign a team member to follow up. Their journey is almost completely dark until the first meeting.

Marketers want to uncover the sources of dark social so that they can influence those sources. But that’s unlikely. Many circles, such as private communities where leaders of companies within a corporate group share tips with each other, are simply closed to outsiders.

A better approach to dark social is to focus on understanding what’s being shared and why. It’s the one thing within your control. Though you may not be able to place the origins of every site visit, in aggregate, these unknown visits can still tell you a lot about your customers and their needs. And you may uncover patterns that could inform your marketing strategy.

Of course, there is no precise way to go about this. There will always be shares and conversations that are unknown to us. But these steps could go a long way in maximizing your visibility and understanding of dark social activity:

  1. Assume all direct traffic to deep links are dark social in one way or another

It’s highly unlikely that anyone would type in a specific URL other than for the homepage or any vanity URLs that you promote. So you can filter out direct traffic to the primary domain, vanity URLs, and any other URL captured in an advanced attribution platform as a potential dark social source.

The remaining direct traffic to deep links are likely referred by a dark source such as a Slack community, email, or text message. Look within this pool for patterns among data points such as time of visit, pages, locations, and devices to see if there are any events that may correlate with these visits (e.g., announcements, webinars, news). 

  1. Use a short URL service to track dark social shares

A URL shortening service could track social shares because it’s distinct (e.g., bit.ly) from your primary domain. The drawback of this method is that it is not as reliable because it requires the user to share through a sharing tool. But it can help reduce the number of actual dark shares.

  1. Use self-attribution: Ask your users where they heard about your product

Running self-attribution surveys is the best way to uncover dark social activity as you’re collecting data directly from the source. Take care to make the survey as easy and to the point as possible with one multiple-choice question. And be sure to ask multiple questions over time. 

A great way to do this is to start with a lead form or checkout page, and follow up with an email. Sona can automatically plug these touchpoints into a comprehensive user profile and allow you to analyze the buyer’s journey to see if there are any patterns to be uncovered.

  1. Create a special dark social dashboard

Set up a custom dashboard to monitor revenue metrics (e.g., CAC, sales velocity) of customers who found your business through a dark social source. Again, the point is to spot patterns and opportunities. Do not expect game-changing insights. But know that the optimizations that could come from this exercise will add up in the long run.

At the end of the day, the fundamentals of content sharability will always remain. People will always be motivated to share helpful, interesting, or entertaining content. Delivering value and a great user experience to your customers should always be a priority. 

That said, self-attribution surveys and revenue attribution dashboards, as mentioned above, can illuminate a lot of dark social activity and make a big difference in optimizing ad spend.