dark social

Exploring the Phenomenon of Dark Social for B2B Marketers

StrategyteamstepupApr 2, 2023

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B2B Marketers often refer to “dark social.” But what is its effect on brands and their growth, and how can it be measured?

Social media use has revolutionized how we communicate and interact personally and professionally. It has captivated marketers, analysts, and researchers as a growing digital landscape trend.

This article explores this phenomenon, from its definition and origin to its role and impact on marketing, growth, and analytics. Furthermore, it delves into the challenges and opportunities that dark social presents for businesses and brands in the age of data-driven decision-making.

Understanding This Phenomenon

Definition and Origin of Dark Social

Dark social or ‘silent sharing’ refers to sharing content through private, non-public channels such as email, messaging apps, and forums. It involves the transmission of links and URLs that are difficult or impossible to measure through traditional web analytics tools, as they occur outside of public social share networks.

The term “dark social” was coined in 2012 by Alexis Madrigal, a journalist for The Atlantic, who discovered that a significant proportion of web traffic came from untraceable sources.

Historically, dark social originated when people used chat rooms and instant messaging to exchange content and communicate. In recent years, it has gained momentum due to the rise of mobile devices and messaging apps, which have become an integral part of our daily lives.

The Role of Dark Social in Today’s Digital Landscape

This basic human tendency highlights the limitations of traditional social analytics in capturing the full scope of social interactions.

While public social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are still essential channels for brand promotion and content distribution, they only represent a fraction of social sharing.

Furthermore, dark social plays a crucial role in consumer behaviour and purchase decisions. Research has found that people are likelier to trust and act upon recommendations from family and friends sent through private channels than publicly shared ones.

Understanding and harnessing the power of dark social is essential to develop effective marketing strategies that resonate with target audiences.

The Impact of Dark Social on B2B Marketing and Analytics

Challenges in Measuring Dark Social Traffic

One of the biggest challenges of silent sharing is the difficulty in measuring its impact on traffic, conversions, and revenue. Often, this kind of traffic is misidentified as direct traffic or organic search traffic because it lacks referral tags.

As a result, marketing campaigns can be undermined by skewed analytics and inaccurate performance metrics.

To address this issue, marketers and analysts can employ various tactics, such as URL shorteners, creating customized landing pages, and leveraging social sharing buttons that track clicks and shares.

Additionally, they can use advanced analytics tools that integrate with messaging apps and email providers to gain deeper insights into dark social traffic and engagement.

The Influence of Dark Social on Consumer Behavior

Dark social represents a valuable opportunity for B2B brands to tap into the power of personal recommendations and word-of-mouth marketing to drive engagement and conversions. By creating compelling and shareable content that aligns with the interests and values of their target audience, brands can increase the likelihood of their content being shared through private channels.

Moreover, by understanding the nature and motivations of silent sharing, brands can gain valuable insights into the needs and preferences of their audience, which can inform their product development, positioning, and messaging strategies. With the rise of social commerce and influencer marketing, harnessing the potential of dark social has become more critical than ever for B2B brands seeking to establish a competitive advantage.

Strategies for Addressing Dark Social in Marketing Campaigns

There are several approaches that brands can take to address dark social in their marketing campaigns. One way is to optimize their content for private sharing by including shareable links and messaging that encourage sharing. Additionally, brands can leverage chatbots and messaging apps to offer personalized recommendations, customer support, and exclusive discounts to customers who share their content through private channels.

Furthermore, brands can leverage the data and insights gained from dark social to inform their social media and content strategies. By identifying the topics, formats, and channels that resonate with their audience, brands can create more targeted and effective campaigns and content that drive engagement and conversions.

Dark Social Platforms and Channels

Popular Dark Social Apps and Tools

People use several popular dark social apps and tools to share content privately. These include messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and WeChat, email services like Gmail and Outlook, and forums like Reddit and Quora. Each platform presents unique opportunities and challenges for brands seeking to tap into dark social.

For example, messaging apps offer a highly personalized and intimate environment for sharing content but can be difficult for brands to navigate without being intrusive or spammy. Conversely, email is a more formal and professional channel that can be leveraged for targeted campaigns and lead nurturing. Similarly, forums provide a rich source of user-generated content and insights that can be used to inform content strategies and build brand advocacy.

The Rise of Messaging Apps and Private Communities

Messaging apps and private communities have seen explosive growth in recent years, with more and more people turning to these channels for communication and content consumption. This trend has been driven by several factors, including the desire for more secure and private communication, the availability of new features and functionalities, and the proliferation of mobile devices.

dark social

For B2B brands, messaging apps and private communities provide a unique opportunity to engage their audience and build relationships through one-to-one interactions. By creating exclusive groups and communities, B2B brands can foster a sense of community and belonging among their fans and customers while providing them with valuable content and offers.

The Role of Email in Silent Sharing

Despite the rise of messaging apps and social networks, email remains a crucial channel in silent sharing. Research has found that email accounts for over 70% of all dark social sharing, making it a valuable channel for brands seeking to leverage the power of personal recommendations and referrals.

To optimize their email campaigns for silent sharing, brands can include shareable links and buttons within their email templates. Additionally, they can segment their email lists based on user behavior and preferences and tailor their messaging to align with the needs and interests of their target audience.

Best Practices for Navigating Dark Social

Tips for Identifying and Tracking Traffic

Identifying and tracking dark social traffic is essential to any B2B marketing strategy that seeks to leverage its potential. To do so, brands can use various tools and techniques, such as Google Analytics, Bit.ly, and SocialFlow, to measure and monitor their traffic and engagement.

One effective strategy is to create unique URLs and landing pages for different channels and campaigns, which can help brands to isolate and track their traffic. Additionally, brands can monitor their social mentions and sentiment to identify potential dark social conversations and trends.

Leveraging Dark Social for B2B Brand Awareness and Engagement

Dark social represents a valuable brand opportunity to build brand awareness and engagement through word-of-mouth marketing and personal recommendations. By creating shareable and relevant content that resonates with their target audience, brands can encourage their customers and fans to share their content through private channels, expanding their reach and influence.

Moreover, by engaging with their audience through messaging apps and private communities, brands can foster long-term relationships that are built on trust, loyalty, and mutual value. This can lead to increased customer retention, advocacy, and sales.

Ensuring Privacy and Security in Dark Social Communications

As the use of these channels continues to grow, privacy and security concerns have emerged as significant issues for B2B brands and consumers alike. Given the sensitive nature of private communication and sharing, brands must ensure the privacy and security of their customers’ data and interactions.

This can be achieved through secure messaging apps and encryption technologies and by adhering to data protection and privacy regulations such as GDPR and CCPA. Additionally, brands can educate their customers and employees about the risks and best practices of using dark social channels to minimize the risks of data breaches and cyber-attacks.

The Future of Dark Social

Emerging Trends and Technologies of Unmeasurable Engagement

Several emerging trends and technologies are transforming how we communicate and interact online, shaping the future of dark social. AI-powered chatbots, integration of social media and messaging apps, and blockchain-based messaging platforms that prioritize privacy and security are all examples of these trends.

Additionally, the increasing use of video and live streaming on social media and messaging apps presents new opportunities for brands to engage their audience through immersive and interactive content experiences.

The Potential Impact of Regulation and Privacy Concerns

The growing emphasis on data protection and privacy concerns has raised questions about the future of dark social and its impact on B2B marketing. Regulations like GDPR and CCPA have imposed strict rules on collecting, using, and sharing personal data, which has prompted brands and marketers to rethink their strategies for capturing and analyzing dark social traffic.

Moreover, growing public awareness of the risks and consequences of data breaches and cyber-attacks has highlighted the importance of secure and private communication channels that respect users’ privacy and rights. This has spurred the development of new technologies and platforms that prioritize encryption, decentralization, and user control.

The Evolving Role of Dark Social

Despite the challenges and opportunities, its evolving role in the digital ecosystem is still uncertain. As social media and messaging platforms evolve and converge, the boundaries between public and private sharing may become blurred, leading to new forms of social engagement and measurement.

Opportunities Through Dark Social: How to Leverage Private Sharing

While Dark Social can be challenging to track and measure, it presents unique opportunities for B2B marketers. Here are some ways that you can use it to improve your marketing efforts:

  1. Build Relationships
    Dark Social channels like email and private messaging provide an opportunity to build relationships with your audience on a more personal level. Creating content that resonates with your audience and encouraging them to share it can make a more meaningful connection with your audience.
  2. Gain Insights
    Even though it can be difficult to track, it still provides valuable insights into what content resonates with your audience and their interests. By monitoring social listening tools and analyzing direct traffic, you can gain insights into what’s working and what’s not.
  3. Create Personalized Content
    Private conversations are often more personal and intentional than public conversations on social media. Using the insights gained from your marketing efforts, you can create more personalized content that resonates with your audience on a deeper level.
  4. Expand Your Reach
    Channels like email and private messaging allow you to expand your reach beyond your immediate network. By creating easily shareable content and encouraging your audience to share it, you can reach new audiences and expand your reach.

Additionally, as the use of messaging apps and private groups continues to grow, the role of dark social in shaping consumer behavior and decision-making may become even more pronounced, requiring brands to adapt their strategies and tactics to stay ahead of the curve.


Dark social, especially in B2B marketing, is a complex and dynamic phenomenon that presents challenges and opportunities for brands seeking to engage their audience and drive conversions in the digital age. By understanding the nature and motivations of sharing, identifying and tracking their dark social traffic, and leveraging the unique opportunities presented by messaging apps and private communities, B2B brands can create more targeted and effective campaigns that resonate with their target audience.

While the future of dark social is uncertain, one thing is clear: its impact on marketing and analytics will only continue to grow in importance and significance as we enter a new era of data-driven decision-making.



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