What Is Dark Social?

And How You Bring It To Light

What is Dark Social? The term refers to private sharing in instant messaging and email — traffic that is a bit tricky to uncover. This post is a “what is” and “how to” article all at once.

What is Dark Social?

So far, you know one thing about dark social:

  • Slack
  • Facebook Messenger
  • Text messages
  • WhatsApp

The social part of Dark Social?

You might ask:

A simple example of Dark Social

Imagine this:

The difference between dark social and public shares

Now you might ask:

Why should you care about dark social?


  1. Higher feeling of being selected for you personally
  2. Validation from the person sharing it to you

The challenge with “dark social”

The big challenge with shares in private channels is probably obvious by now: they are harder to uncover and understand. Dark social traffic shows up as “direct traffic” in your web analytics tool. Direct traffic is also when someone types in your URL directly in their browser. According to ambitious estimations — around 80% of all shares of content are done over “dark social”. That’s a lot of traffic stemming from somewhere you don’t know. You might ask: “Why is it not possible to track these shares?” The simple reason is that when a user shares a URL by copying and pasting instead of sharing a link you’ve created, there are no campaign indicators (like utm-tags) at the end of the URL. Without campaign indicators, or a referral webpage, your web analytics tool is blind and can’t tell from where a user comes.

Who’s sharing in private?


  1. Committed advocates of your brand

How to track “Dark Social” with Google analytics?

You might be wondering:

How to get Google Analytics to show dark social traffic (Disclaimer: How it worked in 2019)

  • When you visit Google Analytics in your web browser choose “Audience → Overview” in the left sidebar. Click on “Add Segment” in the upper middle of the screen.
  • From the list of segments pick “Direct Traffic”. Make sure there’s no other segment from the list picked but Direct Traffic. Scroll down and click “Apply”.
  • Now you want to narrow the traffic down even further — to find out where on your site your dark social traffic lands. Go to “Behavior → Site Content → All Pages”. This page displays a list with all the pages on your site to which people have arrived directly.
    Some of these pages might have been reached directly by someone manually typing the URL into their browser bar. But it’s also pretty unlikely that someone types in a long URL to a specific landing page when they visit your site directly. So, now you want to filter out the URLs that are memorable enough for users to do this.
  • Click “Advanced” in the bar just above your list of pages to create a new filter.
  • Choose “Exclude” in the drop-down list and select Page as your dimension. At the end of the row, type in the directory of one of your simpler page URLs — things like “/contact”, “/blog”, or “/about”. (Tip: When you type in a forward slash “/” in the box you’ll get suggestions for pages you can enter.)
  • Add more pages to the filter by selecting “+ Add a dimension” and doing step 5 over again until all the pages you want to list are listed.
  • Click “Apply” to activate the filter and get a list of the harder-to-remember URLs from your site that don’t have any referrer data. These visits are probably a result of dark social traffic.

Other clever ways to uncover Dark Social Traffic

Was that all?

Better sharing buttons

If you add better sharing buttons for your content you can hope that people use the buttons instead of copy–paste.

  1. Have correct UTM-tags. So that you can get the referral data you need to track from where your visitors arrive

Use Lead Magnets to get the answer you need

One thing we always forget:

Some final takeaways

What you should remember?

Digital strategist and behavioural scientist. Fascinated by humans online. Currently consulting for @hm. Previously at @spotify.

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