Hook, Bait, and Listen: Capturing The Dark Social

Posted By on September 3, 2015

The Dark Social Challenge

Hook, Bait, and Listen: Capturing The Dark Social: The world is switching off from social media sharing through platforms like Facebook and Twitter due to increased rates of spam, paid media hijacking, and relentless monetization of users. Add to that the scariness of the NSA Prism capture-all activities, advertising network targeting (and re-targeting), and brand messages and social media feels like an inauthentic place.

Dark social is a term coined by Alexis C. Madrigal, a senior editor at The Atlantic, in 2012. It refers to the social sharing of content that occurs when a link is sent via online chat or email, rather than shared over a social media platform, from which referrals can be measured.

And, ‘The Dark Social’ are those people that love the web, love their friends and share content but they don’t want to be seen doing it. They share links and images and writing directly in emails, direct messaging apps (like Whatsapp), and through SMS. They don’t want their activities monetized or monitored.

Dark Social is nearly 70% of sharing activity…and Entertainment, careers, travel, science and education all topping the 80% dark social mark.  (RadiumOne)

The question now is how can you protect your hard-earned social media and marketing budgets and still demonstrate that users are loving your content and sharing it?

Well, there is hope. The analysts at Forrester have been saying:

Stop making Facebook the centre of your relationship marketing efforts…If you have to choose between adding a subscriber to you email list or gaining a new Facebook fan, go for email every time. Your emails get delivered more than 90% of the time, while your Facebook posts get delivered 2% of the time — and no one’s looking over your should telling you what you can and can’t say in your emails.

This means we need to train and fight old school. There is a 3-step method that can help with this – HOOK, BAIT, AND LISTEN…

  • HOOK: Capture and communicate
    • Build a contact database and respectfully communicate with them often. Include them in the story of your brand and ask the to participate. Capture email through all of the channels you operate on. Look at your website. Where do you capture email? What do you do with it? How much effort do you put into building trust, and a relationship, with your customers?
  • BAIT: Produce great content
    • You need to build a content production and syndication factory in your marketing function. Text alone will not grab attention. Content must be fresh, relevant and really connective. It must leave an open door for your customers to build on. 
  • LISTEN: Syndication
    • The more places your content is, the more people will see it and visit your site. You must make it easy to share in all ways. You must also ensure you have mechanisms in place to capture where it is being shared.

How to Find The Dark Social

The Dark Social are taking your content from the places they visit and don’t want you to see them doing it, but there are some ways you can track activities like this:

  1. Short URLs – Use a link-shortening tool to track all branded content you share publicly (and that travels from your site). Each time someone copies the shortened URL and shares it privately, you can accurately measure its reach. bit.ly is particularly good at this kind of tracking.

  2. Auto-adding URLs to content being shared – Use a plugin that automatically adds your URL to the copied content a visitor copies (into documents, social, posts, blogs etc.). Tynt Copy&Paste is a great little tool for this

  3. Address Bar Tracking – GetSocial.io provides a nifty an ‘Address bar Tracking’ app to your site that helps you track when people copy the url from their address bars (a big indicator of a dark social person).

  4. Create a Google Analytics Dark Segment – GA allows its users to create advanced segments. This feature enables specific filtering of your traffic according to a defined criteria. Identify and track all visitors who came to your website through direct traffic and didn’t go through the homepage. Simple and smart.

  5. Share ‘Narrative Insight’ – Not all dark social activity can be identified. You still need to go out and see what people are saying about your brand. In analytics I call this ‘narrative insight’, more traditionally known as social listening. Google search is a key tool that analysts can use (and probably the most useful), and Google Alerts, DuckDuckGo, Bing, Hootsuite, Mention, radian6, Sysomos, Trackur, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr etc. are platforms that can help augment your listening capabilities.

Capturing ‘The Dark Social’ is not just about campaigns as much as it’s about your social operations. Plan your resources to be technical, as well as creative marketers. This is the way that the most effective product marketing organizations work. Know the full spectrum of sharing and recognize that people are choosing to go dark.

The Dark Social are not ignoring you but your management might believe they are and that will fundamentally change your jobs as social media marketers. It’s time to act. It’s time to plan for ‘The Dark Social’. To do that you can reach out to our Freelancers that are skilled in the areas above on Freelancer.com.

See more context, information, insights and solutions in my ‘The Dark Social: The Future of Social Media‘ presentation I presented at Social Media Camp 2015:

UPDATE: Facebook Might Consider Business-to-Consumer Chat for WhatsApp– This is where platform consolidation will try and leap the divide between true private conversations and selling access to those channels. Facebook sees big money in the hidden conversations. (GMail is already ahead of the game in email circles).


Nikolas Badminton is a world-respected futurist speaker that researches, speaks, and writes about the future of work, how technology is affecting the workplace, how workers are adapting, the sharing economy, and how the world is evolving. He appears at conferences in Canada, USA, UK, and Europe. Email him to book him for your radio, TV show, or conference.

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