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Dark Social: What Is It and 6 Ways How to Measure It

Dark Social: What Is It and 6 Ways How to Measure It

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Discover the hidden side of social sharing in our latest YouTube video, where we explain how to measure dark social and uncover its impact on your marketing strategy.

Have you ever found yourself puzzled by leads that appear without a clear source, despite your best efforts to track them? 

This is a common frustration – traditional attribution models often leave gaps, making it difficult to pinpoint the exact marketing channel responsible for every lead. 

Even more interesting is the fact that more than 70% of a buyer’s journey is completed before they ever contact you [1]. In essence, this ‘dark funnel’ or ‘dark social’ represents the hidden influences that shape their decisions outside your direct insight and control.

So, what even is dark social? In this article, we will define what dark social is, explain why it is important, and provide six powerful strategies to measure its impact on your marketing efforts more effectively.

What Is Dark Social?

Illustration of two people communicating through messaging apps on smartphones, representing dark social interactions.

In the digital age, dark social represents a significant yet elusive portion of online interactions, encompassing all those exchanges that slip through the cracks of traditional tracking – conversations in private groups, intimate peer-to-peer interactions, exchanges in communities, mentions on podcasts and YouTube videos, and much more. 

While invisible to standard analytics, the influence of dark social media on web traffic and consumer purchasing decisions is undeniable and substantial, and recognizing the existence and power of dark social is crucial for any digital marketer. 

Examples of Dark Social Media and Channels

Illustration listing 'Examples of Dark Social Media and Channels' including messaging apps, email, SMS, private forums and communities, native sharing within apps, internal communication platforms, and word of mouth, with social media icons.

There is a range of dark social media platforms that people use to share content that is not easily trackable with analytics tools. 

These include: 

  • Messaging Apps: Platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Telegram enable private one-on-one or group conversations, allowing users to share content and links.
  • Email: Email remains one of the most popular channels for sharing content privately, whether it’s forwarding newsletters, articles, or links to websites.
  • SMS: Direct text messaging between individuals or groups is a common way to send content privately, especially for quick communication on mobile devices.
  • Private Forums and Communities: This includes closed online forums, groups, or communities where members exchange content and engage in discussions away from public view, such as private Facebook groups, Discord servers, or subreddit communities with restricted access.
  • Native Sharing Within Apps: Some mobile apps allow users to share content directly from within the app to their contacts or groups without going through public social media platforms, such as sharing articles from news apps or product links from e-commerce apps via native sharing options.
  • Internal Communication Platforms: Tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and internal company forums serve as private channels for employees to exchange content and information within the organization.
  • Word of Mouth: While not a digital platform, word of mouth remains one of the most influential forms of dark social. Phone calls and in-person conversations allow people to verbally share content, recommendations, and information with others, amplifying the reach of content beyond digital channels.

Why Is Dark Social So Important?

Illustration of people interacting with large blocks containing icons and text, representing different aspects of dark social media measurement."

It’s a matter of fact that everyone uses dark social platforms, including your customers. In fact, research shows that dark social accounts for about 71% of all social sharing [2]. This highlights just how powerful and influential it is, so let’s look into some reasons why tracking dark social is important and how it can take your marketing efforts to the next level. 

Insights Into Audience Behavior

Every day, customers are actively engaging in conversations, distributing content, and forming opinions on dark socials. By uncovering these important conversations and understanding why certain content resonates within these closed circles, you can gain valuable insights into your audience’s preferences, interests, and behaviors. 

This information can help inform your content creation, product development, and overall marketing strategies, leading to more targeted and effective campaigns.

Accurate Attribution and Measurement

Traditional web analytics tools often struggle to accurately attribute traffic and conversions, especially when it comes to dark social. By shining a light on dark social interactions, you can gain a more holistic view of your marketing efforts.

This involves accurately tracking the origin of website visits, conversions, and other key metrics that may have previously been misattributed or overlooked. Improved attribution means better decision-making, resource allocation, and ROI measurement. 

Fostering Trust and Engagement

Dark social interactions typically occur within trusted circles, such as friends, family, and close communities. Content shared through these channels tends to carry more weight and credibility than the material shared on public platforms. 

By understanding the dynamics of dark social, you can leverage these trusted networks to foster deeper relationships with your audience. This could involve creating content that resonates with the values, interests, and aspirations of specific audience segments, leading to increased engagement and brand loyalty.

Unlocking Hidden Opportunities

Dark social presents an untapped opportunity for businesses to reach new audiences and expand their market share. By understanding where and how your content is being shared in private conversations, you can identify niche communities and influencers who can amplify your message to previously inaccessible audiences. This can boost brand visibility, customer acquisition, and revenue growth.

6 Ways to Measure Dark Social

llustration titled '6 Ways to Measure Dark Social' with directional arrows pointing to different methods.

Now that you know what dark social is and why tracking it is beneficial for your business, let’s explore some ways to measure dark social sharing. 

1. Incorporate Self-Attribution

When it comes to dark social, traditional tracking methods often fall short. However, by incorporating self-attribution techniques, such as adding a “How did you hear about us?” field in forms, you can illuminate these hidden pathways. This strategy empowers marketers to gather direct feedback from users, revealing the hidden influences shaping their journey.  

By understanding the sources that analytics can’t track, businesses can better appreciate the full spectrum of their digital presence and refine their strategies accordingly. Self-attribution doesn’t just uncover dark social impact; it provides actionable data that can guide marketing decisions and investments.


At NUOPTIMA, we employ various self-attribution techniques to uncover the effectiveness of our marketing efforts. For instance, whenever someone books a call through our website form, we take the opportunity to ask them how they found out about us. 

In addition, during webinars, we use polls to determine participants’ discovery channels. These practices are particularly enlightening amidst multi-channel marketing campaigns, as they allow us to attribute success to the most effective channels.

That said, this strategy has also made it apparent to us that customer journeys are not always straightforward. We’ve discovered that the source reported on a form occasionally differs from the one mentioned during a sales call. 

This discrepancy highlights the layered complexity of customer journeys and how it is impossible to be 100% correct in terms of attribution. It suggests that while one touchpoint may spark interest, another could be the decisive factor that motivates action.

2. Engage in Customer Conversations

Unlocking the secrets of dark social requires going beyond analyzing data. You need to directly engage with your audience. By having conversations with your customers, you can gain valuable insights into the untracked paths that influence their journey to your product. 

This strategy not only sheds light on the impact of dark social but also deepens customer relationships, providing a richer understanding of their needs and perceptions of your brand. Engaging in these dialogues can also reveal the nuanced ways people discover and interact with your content, offering a clearer picture of your marketing’s effectiveness beyond what analytics alone can show. 

As Aptly said by Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon: 

“Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”


LEGO leverages direct engagement with fans through platforms like LEGO Ideas, where enthusiasts submit and discuss designs. This interactive approach provides the company with insights into how community recommendations influence product development. 

By observing discussions and recommendations in these forums, LEGO gains a deeper understanding of dark social’s role in driving interest and product success, showcasing the power of engaging customer conversations in uncovering hidden marketing channels.

To demystify dark social media, adding UTM parameters to URLs is a foundational step. These parameters enable marketers to track the source, medium, and campaign details of traffic, even when shared through untraceable channels like private messaging or email. This method provides a clear picture of how and where audiences engage with content, offering insights into previously hidden interactions.

Another essential element to enhance this strategy is the use of URL shorteners. They not only make lengthy URLs more user-friendly but also incorporate tracking capabilities. This means that even when a link is passed along through dark social channels, the embedded information remains intact, allowing for analytics on click-through rates and engagement.

To further complement these tactics, make content sharing as seamless as possible. Implementing sharing buttons with UTM parameters on content ensures that even when shared beyond the original platform, the source remains identifiable. This setup encourages content circulation while maintaining visibility over its journey across the internet.


BuzzFeed is an exemplary case of how making content easily shareable can significantly contribute to viral growth. They incorporate sharing buttons on every piece of content and optimize their articles and videos for social sharing. 

This approach not only makes it effortless for readers to share content across their private networks, including dark social channels like messaging apps and email, but also allows BuzzFeed to track how their content is shared through UTM parameters embedded in these sharing buttons. Their strategy demonstrates the power of combining accessible sharing options with tracking mechanisms to understand and leverage dark social sharing.

4. Create Your Own Community and Direct Evangelists to Other Communities

Creating a dedicated community offers a unique opportunity to foster deeper connections with your target audience. More specifically, by establishing a space where like-minded individuals can share insights, ask questions, and engage directly with your brand or with your topics, you can foster a sense of belonging and loyalty. 

For instance, SaaS businesses providing expense management tools can create a community of CFOs, or Martech SaaS businesses can create B2B SaaS marketing communities for professionals working at companies that use marketing technology. 

An alternative approach to tapping into dark social is by joining existing communities that are relevant to your niche. You can do this individually or even more effectively by using your brand evangelists and influencers to do so. 

These individuals can either be part of your team, work on a commission basis, or simply be enthusiastic fans eager to spread your message. However, ensure you prioritize authenticity over sales pitches by putting out honest and objective feedback about your product.


NUOPTIMA has successfully harnessed the power of dark social through the creation of the SaaS Minds community, a dedicated space for B2B founders with at least $1m in ARR. This initiative enables direct engagement with a niche audience and fosters discussions that provide deep insights into the needs and challenges of this specific group. 

Additionally, our active participation within existing communities, such as Hampton, Dynamite Circle, 500 Global, and OnDeck, has significantly amplified lead generation and brand awareness.  

5. Leverage Analytics for Indirect Indicators

Analyzing spikes in traffic or engagement that cannot be traced to direct sources is crucial to identifying dark social activity. This strategy involves meticulously reviewing analytics to spot unusual increases in website visits or interactions that cannot be attributed to known marketing efforts. 

Marketers should pay close attention to patterns that align with content distribution or coincide with major events. It is important to track every podcast release, every conference you speak at, and every event you attend to monitor how that impacts your traffic and your number of booked calls.


Consider a scenario where Apple notices a sudden surge in website visits following the launch of a new product. Despite a lack of direct referral sources, the spike aligns with the timing of influencer collaborations and media coverage. Through careful analysis, Apple should be able to identify dark social sharing among tech enthusiasts who are discussing new products via private messaging apps and forums. 

6. Utilize Chatbot Interactions

Implementing chatbots on websites and social media platforms offers a dynamic way to engage with visitors and gain insights into dark social referrals. By programming chatbots to initiate conversations and inquire about how visitors heard about the site or product, your company can collect valuable data directly from your audience. This interaction provides an additional layer of self-attribution, helping to uncover the pathways through which people discover your brand outside of trackable channels. 


Domino’s Pizza skillfully leverages chatbot interactions, which not only enhances customer service but also extracts marketing insights. Their chatbot, “Dom,” facilitates pizza orders through Facebook Messenger and other platforms. 

Beyond order processing, Dom asks customers how they discovered Domino’s (which is the first strategy we covered – self-attribution), shedding light on dark social referrals. When customers mention ordering based on a friend’s recommendation, it underscores word-of-mouth’s influence. 

As Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, wisely said:

“Free publicity and word of mouth is probably the best and cheapest form of advertising.” 

This strategic use of chatbots showcases how traditional businesses can employ digital tools to tap into dark social and gain clearer insights into their marketing strategy’s effectiveness.

Final Thoughts

While traditional analytics track public shares, dark social represents the vast, unseen channels of online sharing and customer interaction that hold immense value for businesses. Although measuring and attributing traffic and engagement from dark social may present challenges, utilizing the right tools and strategies can help businesses gain valuable insights, improve attribution accuracy, enhance customer engagement, and drive business success.

For B2B SaaS companies, and indeed any business aiming to fully grasp their online impact, it’s about recognizing that significant interactions – those leading to conversions and loyalty – often happen off the grid, so understanding dark social and implementing tailored strategies can ultimately strengthen your brand’s position. 

If you need a hand setting up attribution and figuring out how much of your business comes from dark social, NUOPTIMA is a dedicated growth agency that helps businesses uncover the mystery of unseen conversions. We’ll expertly set up attribution models to pinpoint how much of your success stems from dark social channels. 

Our growth experts will also review your traffic sources, providing a holistic view of your customer journey. Book a free discovery call with us today to get started with elevating your business. 


What is dark social?

Dark social is a term used to describe the sharing of content through private channels like messaging apps, email, and direct links, which makes it difficult to track the sharing activity using traditional analytics tools. The term “dark” is used because the referral sources are hidden, creating challenges in accurately measuring and attributing this traffic.

What is a dark social post?

A dark social post is a piece of content that is shared privately through channels such as messaging apps, email, or SMS, where it is difficult to track them. These types of posts often contain links or references to external content but are not publicly visible on social media platforms.

How do I track dark social?

Tracking dark social requires specialized tools and techniques. These may include URL shorteners, unique tracking parameters, and analytics platforms with advanced attribution capabilities. In addition, social listening tools can be used to monitor conversations and mentions across private channels, which can provide valuable insights into dark social sharing.

Why is dark social so important?

Dark social is important because it represents a significant portion of online sharing activity. Understanding dark social allows businesses to uncover hidden audience behaviors, accurately attribute traffic and conversions, build trust and relationships, and improve personalization and targeting efforts, ultimately leading to more effective marketing strategies.



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