Performance Marketing

Objective View on Dark Social

Published April 2022

A man is looking down to his smartphone

A man is looking down to his smartphone

Dark Social has been mentioned in 2012 the first time. And still some people talk about it as if it's the latest marketing hack that will change everything. But have you ever wondered, what Dark Social actually is and what impact it really has on your business?

In this article, you'll learn what Dark Social is, what impact it has, and why it's more marketing buzz than most want to admit. Still, Dark Social is important and should be taken seriously.

But before you continue to read: We're performance marketers. We work successfully with data-driven marketing. Of course, we see Dark Social differently than demand-gen marketers. However, we try to be as objective as possible.

    Editor's Info
  • You'll find our used sources at the end of each section.
  • Jump directly to the tracking approaches here
  • Any questions or feedback? Contact us
    Executive Summary
  • Dark Social are places where you can’t track anything
  • These places are such as word of mouth, communities, social media messages, events etc.
  • 84% of consumer's outbound sharing from websites now takes place in dark social channels
  • A Demand Gen mindset makes your marketing more efficient
  • Use UTM parameters and URL shortener to improve tracking for dark social
  • Ask your users how they found you, e.g. via a mandatory field in the contact form
  • Lead Gen still has it's place

What is Dark Social

Imagine various places where people come into contact with your brand—but you don't notice. A part of the customer journey where attribution software can't track. This is Dark Social.

Image shows that attributions software cannot track the whole customer journey.

Attributions software cannot track the whole customer journey

Dark social refers to the proportion of website visits whose origin cannot be clearly measured and assigned by companies. Mostly caused by the untracked sharing of URLs between end users.

Maybe you asked your colleagues for a recommendation for a new project management tool. Or you read about an interesting brand in a Slack group. There are different ways how people could know about your brand. And often, they need multiple touchpoints to visit your website with an serious intent (look at 7-hour rule).

Here are some Dark Social places

  • Word of mouth (Personal talk, E-Mail, Zoom, etc.)
  • Communities or Groups (Slack, Facebook groups, Discord, etc.)
  • Content Platforms (YouTube, Podcasts, Blogs, etc.)
  • Social Media (LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, etc.)
  • Events (Meetups, trade shows, etc.)

What you have to keep in mind in any case is that sharing information directly with people you know personally is the most natural form of human communication—which will never die. And this is the reason, why you should care about Dark Social in your marketing strategy.

Why you should care about Dark Social

A significant percentage of your customers may have found your website through Google. But how many of these users already had contact with your brand before their search? It's impossible to say exactly. And that's exactly the problem.

Image shows that you can't track where the customer was, before she visited your website.

You can't track where the customer was, before she visited your website

In fact, 84% of consumer's outbound sharing from publisher's and marketer's websites now takes place via private, dark social channels such as e-mail, social networks, and instant messaging.

That's why it's important to care about dark social. Because if it turns out that many of your customers already had contact with your brand on LinkedIn, or have listened to your podcast, then you can gain valuable learnings from that. Maybe your brand presence on LinkedIn is more important than you thought—or just the opposite. And if you know, you gain high-quality first-party data your competitors may don't even think about.

There are ways to measure attribution qualitatively

  • ask your customers why they chose you
  • perform analysis of your channels
  • conduct user surveys
  • include a free "How did you find out about us" field in your contact form

How Dark Social can make your business better

You are reading this right now. So, you are interested in Dark Social. This means, that you take the external impact of your brand seriously. And you don't look at different marketing channels in isolation, but holistically—to increase your marketing efficiency. That alone makes you a good marketer.

In short, keeping an eye of Dark Social leads to

  • a better understanding of your audience
  • valuable knowledge which channels work for your company
  • a high quality on first party data
  • increased marketing efficiency
  • lowering your marketing costs
  • increasing your revenue

Can we prove that? No. But it sounds logical to us. But we are no experts in the topic of Dark Social. We recommend that you look for Demand Gen experts, if you want to dive deeper into this topic.

Possible solutions for Dark Social tracking

Unfortunately, there is no good solution for tracking dark social yet. However, there are a few tricks you can use to at least slightly improve the allocation of dark social accesses.

Dark Social tracking approaches

  • Use UTM parameters and URL shortener to improve tracking for dark social shares as well.
  • When selecting influencers and micro-influencers, make sure they are also active in messengers.
  • Explore your network for relevant messenger groups and join them, whether local, industry-specific, or targeted.
  • Build in social share buttons to make it easier for users to share your website. The lower the hurdle, the more likely they will share it.
  • Ask your users how they found you, e.g. via a mandatory field in the contact form, in the initial conversation, during registration, or via a survey.

Lead Gen vs Demand Gen—the endless battle

Most people will never visit your website. We have around 5% CTR for our ads (usually around 0,5-1%) but the rest of the 95%-99% will only see you within their feed. — The Demand generation Movement

Our data shows average CTR is around 0.5%, not 5%. Meaning 99.5% of people never click. — Chris Walker, CEO of Refine Labs

Yes, only 0.5% clicks compared to 99.5% who didn't click is pretty low. But, 0.5% is only average and should never be the goal. And these numbers need to be considered in relation to the other metrics. If your ad has 10,000,000 impressions, then a CTR of 0.5% means 50,000 clicks. But before we go into too much detail here—as long as the ROAS on paid social is positive, ads are worth it. It's as simple as that. Please, don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

It may be getting harder and more expensive, but Lead Gen still works very well for many of our clients. So why not combine Lead Gen and Demand Gen?

There are ways to measure attribution qualitatively

  • publish your content on multiple platforms—ungated
  • build organic awareness and trust
  • understand your audience and engage with them
  • run paid ads to educate your audience (also known as awareness and consider phase)

And then you can also

  • create high-value whitepapers and ask for an e-mail
  • run lead gen or conversion campaigns

Marketing isn't about Lead Gen vs Demand Gen. Or Social Selling vs Paid Ads. Or whatever is going around these days. Marketing contains many disciplines and every method can be useful. You really have to find out what works for you and what not. But you know that, right?


Yes, Demand Gen is a very good marketing approach and should be integrated in your strategy. But unfortunately, many Demand Gen marketers see it as the Holy Grail and are firmly convinced that it's so much better than Lead Gen.

Maybe it is for them—or for you. But before you say that, please test out other marketing disciplines. And we don't just mean paid ads. We also know that paid ads do not work for everyone and are not better than any other discipline.

Elirius is no Demand Gen agency. If you want to get into Demand Gen, please look for experts doing a good job. We help our clients to achieve business gaols with paid social and Google Ads in the most efficient way. Contact us to find out if we can help you too.

Thank you for reading and have a nice day!