Seeing in the Dark:
“Darkness must pass;
a new day will come,
and when the sun shines,
it will shine out the clearer.”
The Fellowship of the Ring
You might not be Frodo Baggins on the quest to destroy The Ring, but you too may also be on a journey. Certainly not in Middle Earth, but on your computer and inside your data analytics. That journey is often a clear one with some insights. But, there remains dark and unknown parts of your data exploration—barring you from finding answers, clarity, and ultimately—success.
But, like Tolkien said, darkness does pass. Whether it’s literal, figurative—or in your case, analytical—there are ways to detect, address, and mitigate the dark gaps in data.
If you ask the average consumer, they’d say someone is tracking their every move online. Over 60% of Americans believe it’s impossible to go through daily life without having their data collected. Given the depth and breadth of analytics that brands have access to—and how reliant they are on those metrics—it’s hard to argue with them.
But that is quickly changing.
As social media continues to establish its presence, there is a growing gap in analytics pipelines. As users send links and content to their friends through messaging apps, email, or text messages, they contribute to an increasingly important traffic segment known as dark social.
Lurking beyond the reach of traditional analytics tools, it’s a painful but critical blind spot in brands’ understanding of their customer journeys. In fact, industry research found that approximately 77.5% of online shares happen through dark social channels—a number that simply cannot be ignored.
Should your brand be worried about dark social? Read on to learn what it is, why it’s a challenge, and how to leverage it to elevate your business goals.
On the surface, the term “dark social” might sound ominous. Between trolls, propaganda factories, illicit drugs, and worse, the internet has no shortage of dark nooks and crannies better left undisturbed.
Fortunately, dark social is nothing of the sort. Originally coined by Alexis Madrigal in The Atlantic, dark social encompasses all the “between the lines” social media activity that traditional analytics can’t track. As the online world has grown, so too have the various channels included in dark social:
Taken as a whole, dark social comprises a big portion of interactions with your brand that you can’t directly track. And without actionable metrics, managing your marketing and CX improvement efforts becomes a guessing game.
Let’s dig into why dark social is a problem for analytics and teams who rely on those insights.
Traditional analytics platforms present a wealth of statistics and information about how users engage with your website or app. One of the most important aspects of analytics is the customer journey—where users start and the path they take while engaging with a brand.
In many cases, analytics tools will use the referring URL to track where the user came from.
Therein lies the problem of dark social—when a user clicks a link from a messaging app, it won’t pass along a referring URL. Analytics tools think the user went directly to that page on your site, either by typing in the URL or clicking a bookmark in their browser.
Obviously, a huge chunk of that traffic isn’t coming from direct hits to your site. But lacking evidence to the contrary, you can’t segment it as anything else.
Improperly categorized traffic from dark social causes a few key problems:
Getting a handle on dark social isn’t easy, but it is essential. With 77.5% of online shares happening through dark social channels, there is a massive amount of user activity brands are missing. Your users are spreading your content, evangelizing your brand, and providing free advertising—but if you don’t know how, that may be a problem.
The last thing you want to do is misclassify such a critical portion of your visitors as direct traffic. Or worse, ignore it entirely without trying to manage and leverage it.
Dark social isn’t as easily quantified as traditional analytics. Nor can you harness, direct, and optimize it in the same ways. Regardless, dark social can help elevate your brand:
Illuminating dark social is a challenge for every brand, but essential to understanding your users. And the dark spots make that more difficult. Due to their heavy reliance on customer insights, these three industries feel the pain more than others.
The telecom industry is notoriously competitive. Services and prices are similar across the board, customers are frequently unsatisfied, and you must deliver a phenomenal CX to stand out.
However, dark social presents three critical problems for telecom brands monitoring CX:
Real-time user data drives everything in SaaS, from marketing campaigns to product development decisions, and even C-suite strategizing. But tracking user behavior is becoming a challenge as platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams take over companies’ internal workflows—which fall under the dark social umbrella.
This complicates monitoring two key metrics for SaaS brands:
Content is king in media and entertainment. Social media metrics like reach, user engagement, and shares are key statistics that help brands know if their content is resonating. But when people interact with your content in a private channel, you only see a slice of the picture.
Dark social affects media companies in a couple of ways:
In spite of its challenges, staying on top of dark social is essential. With the right tools, you can mitigate a majority of problems and restore end-to-end, 360° customer journey coverage.
Here are six strategies to help light the way:
Social sharing tools allow users to send your links and content to friends but still provide tracking data. Entice your customers to use them as much as possible:
Link shorteners like Goo.gl and Bit.ly make links easier to copy and paste—and thus share. They also allow you to embed tracking variables, providing visibility into how and where people share your links. This might be tedious if you’re tracking a lot of links, but could be the missing puzzle piece to finding out the journey of a link as users share and click on it.
Urchin Tracking Module (UTM) parameters should be in your regular toolset. They’re especially helpful in adding granularity to your analytics when you suspect a link will end up on dark social. By adding a series of variables to the URL, you can later determine where the traffic actually came from. In tandem, link shorteners also come in handy when using UTM codes, as they save your users from having to copy unwieldy URLs.
Analytics can’t directly track dark social traffic, but with some creativity and smart segmentation, you can still gain insight. Setting up a segment that ignores commonly bookmarked URLs and excludes returning users provides a reasonable estimate about which visitors are likely coming from dark social.
Sometimes, being direct is the best approach. Asking users how they found your site with unobtrusive popups or feedback forms ensures you’re getting accurate data. Not only do you eliminate a blind spot, but you also start building a customer profile with first-hand feedback.
Social listening is a nascent industry dedicated to addressing the problem of dark social. No social listening platform can entirely solve the problem of dark social, but for brands that rely heavily on social media, they can be a valuable complement to traditional analytics tools.
It’s clear that these dark spots in the customer journey are an ongoing problem for brands. And there’s no silver bullet to magically solve it. Instead, you need to employ diverse strategies to suss out clues about what’s happening in the dark, stitch together a comprehensive picture, and perform nuanced analysis to produce actionable insights.
That’s where Scuba can help.
Scuba’s continuous intelligence platform isn’t just an analytics tool. It’s a comprehensive toolset that empowers team members across your organization to perform complex analyses and make rapid, informed decisions.
Scuba helps your brand solve dark social with several key features:
|Easily ingest disparate data sources & streams from across your company and combine them into a unified data warehouse.|
|Run complex queries & reports without any assistance from data scientists or IT personnel.||
|Perform robust customer journey analysis, seamlessly moving from a bird’s-eye view to granular details.|
|Build highly configurable real-time analytics dashboards, letting you easily monitor your brand’s KPIs all in one place.||
|Leverage artificial intelligence & machine learning to perform nuanced analysis of your customer data, yielding detailed and meaningful results.|
|Set up customizable alerts to monitor customer pain points so you can deal with small problems before they become bigger.||
|Keep your customers’ data safe and secure with industry-leading security & regulatory certifications, including SOC2, GDPR, ISO27001, ISO27018, and PrivacyShield.|