A return to the dark side of social sharing

Dark Social

If you can, cast your mind back to December 2012 and this post on tracking Dark Social in which we explored the idea of a huge chunk of social data being hidden away in the Typed/Bookmarked segment within SiteCatalyst, rather than being allocated to Social Network referrals.

An ongoing challenge for any of us trying to demonstrate the value of social media to our businesses is that it can be very tricky to prove it. While we’re able to track direct conversions, it’s much harder to track those indirect conversions resulting from engagement. It’s not impossible to do, but does require more expensive and sophisticated tools than many businesses are able/willing to invest in without that proof of return, resulting in a chicken and egg situation.

This is one of the major reasons why being able to more accurately see the true level of socially driven traffic coming through to our site it so important. This year we’ve been having another tinker with the Dark Social segment to try and get as truer picture as possible.

Our new and improved segment definition looks like this:

Includes | Visit

  • Referrer Type equals Typed/Bookmarked (we only want to see this referrer as this is where our Dark Social traffic is hiding)

Excludes | Visit

  • Tracking code is not null (we’re looking for anything and everything without a tracking code on it)
  • Referrer Type equals (Add in all the other referrer types listed as we want to make sure the visit can’t be attributed anywhere else)

Excludes | Page View

Below is the January data from one of our UBM Live events (in the first Dark Social post we looked specifically at a media brand, this time we’re looking at an event brand) with data showing the impact that the new and improved Dark Social segment is having on our social results:

Page Views


Unique Visitors

All Visits




Visits from Social Sites segment




Dark Social segment




Social Sites and Dark Social Combined




And if we look at the Referrer Types Report and compare the results with and without the Dark Social segment applied, here’s what we get:

Return to dark social

This is a really important result as it gives us an indication of the impact that the community’s social sharing is having on traffic to our sites. Remember that due to the absence of tracking codes, we know that this isn’t social sharing which has been driven by our brand channels through our existing campaigns. This is our community being social about us off their own backs – that’s where the power of social media really lies and this segment is starting to help us prove it.

(As a follow-up to this post, I’m going to do another looking at the results for an event site compared with a media brand to see what impact the availability of content has on Dark Social sharing)


Photo credit: ‘Dark Matter Map’ by thebadastronomer is licensed under  CC BY-NC 2.0