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The inside out of dark social

September 24, 2021

Marketing leaders, it's a given fact that you want to know where your spend is going.

And that means keeping an eye on which channels and tactics are giving you a return for your efforts.

So, this next line is going to scare you a little...

Most of your buyers are making decisions inside channels and places that you can’t track - and you probably aren't even aware it's happening.

It's called dark social, and in this article, we're going to dive into what it is, how you can use it and why you should.

Click one of the headings below to jump to a section or scroll 👇to start reading.

Defining dark social | Why you can no longer keep dark social in the dark | Dark social marketing benefits | Metrics and measuring dark social | More insight straight to your inbox

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 Defining dark social✒️

Dark social...

You might have overheard the term whispered by B2B marketers in the shadowy corners of Zoom calls and meetups.

Or, you know, just from posts on LinkedIn.

But, wherever you heard it, you're likely wondering:

What the heck is dark social?

Coined by writer Alexis Madrigal when he wrote this article for The Atlantic, dark social encapsulates the “invisible” shares via private channels like messaging apps, email and text.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg, or as Alexis says:

“We’re only seeing and measuring the tip of the sharing iceberg.”

For example, if you share any article via Facebook Messenger or Slack, you're using dark social.


Because it's incredibly difficult for B2B marketers to track the referrer data or source of this traffic. This is something Chris Walker, CEO @ Refine Labs, has spoken about extensively when referring to the dark funnel.

While it may sound a bit baffling, it's something you definitely want to jump on; the reason being that Madrigal found that private channels are the top referral sources.

Why you can no longer keep dark social in the dark 💡

As marketers, we like to know where traffic is coming from.

Or rather… We need to know…


It helps with our strategies.

It tells us what our audience likes so that we can give them more of it.

And it helps build intent data and buy-in from senior stakeholders for marketing budget towards certain activities.

Unfortunately, 77.5% of buyers share links through dark social channels.

Meaning there’s a huge invisible audience out there. They love your content and you aren’t even aware of it!

Dark social isn’t going anywhere, and knowing where your traffic is coming from is important for future campaigns.

This is why we need to bring dark social out into the light.

Dark social marketing benefits 🎁

Being fully aware of where your website traffic is coming from is one benefit of honing in on dark social, but there are more:

1 - You can prioritise popular content

When you know where your traffic is coming from, you can pinpoint how popular a specific topic or article is and do more of it.

From here, you can go on to double down your distribution efforts in relation to these topics within the channels that are ACTUALLY performing for you.

Which will make measuring the metrics around it a little easier, especially if your audience uses the share features available on most posts.

2 - Dark social impacts your traffic

Whether you realise it or not, your links are being shared via dark social every day.

The majority of shares come from mobile, and they’re said to account for 53% of click backs; that’s not counting desktop.

So, when you’re having a look at your attribution software, and you notice you had a spike in traffic on one day but not the next, dark social might be the reason. 

3 - You can reach unique demographics

If you're already using B2B data to drive your marketing, then capturing more from dark social will only improve your reach.

Dark social can help you collect intent on your customers’ interests at specific points in their buyer journeys. You can use this information to:

  • Create better-targeted campaigns.
  • Improve your relationships with prospects and customers.
  • Reach demographics that might have been invisible to you before.

4 - Dark social uses referral marketing

Think about how successful word of mouth marketing is?

It's the same with dark social. Even if it's being done in a way you can't track - it's still happening!

Each dark social share is a referral in your favour, and if you learn how to harness its power, you can gain a lot more followers.

Watch Chris Walker, CEO @ Refine Labs and Alice de Courcy, CMO @ Cognism, discuss the dark funnel 👇

Metrics and measuring dark social ⚖️

How do you harness the power of dark social?

First things first:

If it were easy, everyone would be doing it!


That said, there are a number of ways you can track and measure dark social metrics, including:

✔️ Utilising sticky share buttons - have a look at your website and make sure your follow buttons can be differentiated from your share buttons. Use a tool like sharethis, which creates inline or sticky share buttons. This means you can track shares via email, messenger or over text and measure them through your attribution software.

Shortening your links - you can add a tracking code or UTM to your link, but they’re easily removed and can become overly diluted with information with each sharing journey. Instead, use a link shortener like Bitly or Owly. They’ll track shares for you for more accurate analytics.

Using Google Analytics - you can find out what percentage of traffic is attributed to the wrong source by adding a dark social segment to Google Analytics.

Ask your customers - add a ‘where did you hear about us’ question to your demo forms or thank you page. Call up closed-won deals and ask them how they heard about you. You will soon see that the data your attribution software is pulling in and the qualitative learnings from these methods are very different.

But this data can be everything. It illuminates the misty darkness of that ‘organic’, ‘direct’ referral source that your MAP shows you; it’s the difference between doubling down investment on your podcast vs SEO efforts.

Closing thoughts 💭

Madrigal pointed out that there's really no way to be 100% sure you're getting the right information when it comes to dark social.

So instead of worrying about how dark social affects your metrics, embrace it.

Create content that's worth sharing, and keep an eye on your web traffic and conversions to make sure it's working.

Below you can see notes from inside our largest CW opportunity this month. The human-verified lead source indicates dark social, and specifically, our CMO’s organic LinkedIn content as the source of this deal:

This is the power of dark social. If you can harness and scale this, much like the Refine Labs team and Chris Walker have done, you will unlock a whole world of revenue opportunity.

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