Brewster Stanislaw: What in the world is dark social? — Live from the Brands-Only Summit

Coverage of this session by Dana Ryall of Connect with her by finding her on LinkedIn.

2:45 —'s Ashley Siemon introduces Simply Measured's Brewster Stanislaw.

2:46 — Brewster: Today's agenda: Defining dark social; Does this have anything to do with wizards? Dark social's growing importance; How can I quit being scared of the dark? Measuring dark social; How can you measure something you can't see?

2:47 — Brewster: What in the world is dark social?  Traffic that arrives at your site with no referrer. SM's direct definition — website traffic that originates from a shared link, but does not pass a referrer and thus appears as ‘direct traffic' in web analytics.

2:48 — Brewster: SM's “Tell me like I'm five” definition – Social shares and traffic that can't be measured by traditional website or social analytics.

2:49 — Brewster: SM's “Tell me like I'm a teenager” definition – all that other social stuff in our giant direct traffic bucket.

2:50 — How does this happen in practice? The dominant way is through Social Mobile Apps: In many cases, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and mobile apps for other social networks do NOT pass a referrer. Facebook has 655 million mobile only users.

  • Messaging Apps: WhatsApp, Kik, FB Messanger and other mobile messaging apps do NOT pass a referrer. WhatsApp had 900M users.
  • Email: Major email providers like Gmail, Yahoo and Outlook do NOT pass a referrer.  Gmail has 900M users.
  • SMS: Text messages does not pass a referrer. 300M+ mobile subscribers in the US.

2:54 — Public vs. Private sharing: Dark social is so prominent because people don't want to share everything publically but instead are sharing privately with their closest friends and family via peer-to-peer channels.

2:55 — Brewster: Other direct traffic that do not pass a referrer: Secure browsing, paid and organic search, mobile apps, documents via links.

2:56 — Brewster: Why should I care about this? It's time to start taking credit for the dark social that you own. It's digital word of mouth marketing that illustrates the impact your social team really has.  Paint a bigger picture of web traffic and engagement.

2:57 — The Social Marketing FUNNEL: 33% Loyalty, 23% Reputation, 16% Awareness, 16% Interest, 8% Conversation, 4% Advocacy. Without attribution, you can't prove that you are actually doing this and all of the credit will go to direct social.

3:00 — Brewster: Around 70% of social sharing is dark. Less than 50% of your social traffic is dark. Less than 50% of you digital sales are dark.

3:02 — Brewster shares a case study from a leading beauty retailer. 78% of social purchases were unattributed, when in fact they were driven by earned social sharing work (which had been previously untracked).

3:02 — Brewster shares some final tips about measuring dark social:

  1. User agent analysis – social channels embed network-specific ID's in the User agents to make them trackable.
  2. Link shortening – helps you to understand how many people are clicking on your link, but not visiting your site.  appending UTM parameters to the links in your social posts allows you to measure their impact even with traffic appears direct.
  3. Mobile OS sharing pulls URLs directly from the browser.  55-70% of sharing is URL copy and past which is especially true for dark social channels.
  4. The URL hash fragment – allows you to track social sharing and attribute dark social traffic conversions and shares and has zero impact on SEO.

3:05 — Brewster: Teach your colleagues about dark social and evangelize its importance in your organization.


Q: What networks are really attributing to dark social?

A: Brewster: Twitter has become the best and Facebook is in the #2 spot.

Q: Do you still have to manually add the UTM or are there tools?

A: Brewster: The hashfragment solution will automatically add the UTM.

Q: Is this issue of dark social worldwide?

A: Brewster: I would assume that it is issue everywhere, but I cannot tell you definitively.

Q: Is the solution that you provide automatic or will it have to be added manually?

A: Brewster: The URL will be appended automatically.

Q: What is you recommended attribution model for your clients?

A: Brewster: We advocate for the “last social touch” model.