What Is ‘Dark Social’ And How To Measure It Right?

What Is ‘Dark Social’ And How To Measure It Right?

If you’re a marketer or growth specialist, you have probably heard about ‘Dark Social’ over the last couple of years. Now, in 2016, it’s already clear that ‘Dark Social’ stands for the referral traffic that is hard to measure and that is happening ‘behind the scenes’. When I say ‘behind the scenes’, I’m talking about traffic via Facebook messages when a wife sends some interesting travel destination to her husband or when you share some interesting event in a Viber group or when you share some Techcrunch news with your colleagues on Slack or other team chats.

Before 2014 and the rapid growth of mobile apps and websites, you could easily track your traffic with Google Analytics and other tracking tools. Today, when the ‘rise of machines’ (mobile apps) is crazy and when all huge players are referring mobile traffic to mobile apps, it hurts when you see a lot of traffic is coming through the Direct channel in Google Analytics, and you think they just type ‘www.yourwebsite.com/specific-blog-post’ in their search. Well, if you have set up good tracking in Analytics and you ask yourself:

Do that many people really type ‘www.yourwebsite.com/specific-blog-post’ into their search engine?

… and it seems like it’s not real, then you probably have a problem with tracking ‘Dark Social’ metrics. Especially because Direct traffic sometimes combines the traffic from mobile apps, chats, secure browsing, emails and organic traffic. We can’t fix secure browsing (HTTPS) and Organic traffic with ‘Dark Social’ analytics, but we can do that with mobile apps, chats and email.

So, how can I measure these metrics?

Now, in late 2016, there should be many ways to measure them and to discover the traffic that seems hidden or unreal. I will list 2 tools that can help you realize where the Dark Social traffic comes from.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics can be set up well to closely measure the Dark Social traffic by creating Advanced segments.

You can filter out a specific segment of traffic, defined by specific criteria, and you will get data based on location, behaviour and other traffic attributes you find relevant for your product or service.

The process is as follows:

Go to ‘Audience’ → ‘Overview’ in Google Analytics. Then, you will see the ‘All Sessions’ Segment up left and ‘+ Add Segment’ on the right of ‘All Sessions’


When you click on ‘+ Add Segment’, you will find next:

Now, just click ‘+ New Segment’ in the upper-left corner to create a new one:

The next step is to give a name to your Segment, and in this case, we will type ‘Dark Social Traffic’:

We are almost done, we just need to set up the conditions now, and you will find this option on the left side:

The next step is to exclude the real Homepage direct traffic and include other Direct traffic sources. We will need two filters in order to do this.

The first filter will Exclude sessions, so instead of the ‘Include’ option, choose ‘Exclude’. After that, we will select ‘Landing Page’ under ‘Behaviour’ list and select ‘Exactly matches’ in the next area and type / in the field. We just excluded Homepage sessions in our Segment.

The second filter will Include sessions with the argument Source under ‘Acquisition list’. Choose ‘contains’ and type (direct) in the field.

Now it should look like this:

Click the ‘Save’ button and you have set up your Social Dark Traffic Segment. This will give you some basic info about the Landing pages the traffic comes from, but it will not give you detailed info about the channels.


GetSocial.io is a tool that will provide you with detailed insights into Dark Social metrics. The best thing is that it’s free and doesn’t require any coding skills (Yay! Absolutely no code whatsoever).

GetSocial.io offers you Social sharing buttons and pop-ups in the beginning, which is clever because you can directly measure the effectiveness of those buttons through GetSocial.io analytics system.

If you just want to track Dark Social metrics, you can just use their Analytics tools and get deep insights into the sharing behaviour of users across Social Media. You can identify viral content in real time and share it on the channel the traffic comes from.

You can even connect it with Slack or email notifications and react the moment content sharing goes viral. In addition, you can also use their suggestion system to activate other viral loops.


Other tools

AddThis and Po.st are good tools that require coding knowledge, but the Social Dark tracking setup is very good.

Moreover, there is also Sharethis that offers free share buttons and the option to track conversions from it when you implement that part of the code.

With all the tools that are coming our way and are ready to discover ‘The Dark Side’ of Social sharing, you don’t have to be afraid of missing viral content opportunities. Once you set up good tools, wondering why so many people type ‘www.yourwebsite.com/specific-blog-post’ into the search box won’t give you a headache. The Flashlights (tools) are here and you decide what type of a Flashlight you will use – the one that flashes only a few feet in front of you or the one that can flash miles away.

This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.

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