What Is Dark Social And How Can It Be Used For Growth Hacking By Entrepreneurs?

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Dark social is a term that has been buzzing around the digital marketing world lately, but what exactly does it mean? In simple terms, it refers to the traffic that comes to your website through private channels like messaging apps, email, or even direct sharing. It's called “dark” because this type of social sharing is often untrackable by traditional web analytics tools. But why should entrepreneurs care about this mysterious phenomenon? Well, it turns out that dark social can actually be a powerful tool for growth hacking. In this article, we will explore what dark social is, why it matters, and how entrepreneurs can leverage it to expand their reach and drive more conversions. So, if you're ready to shed some light on the secrets of dark social, keep on reading!

What is Dark Social?

Dark social refers to the traffic that is generated from social sharing that occurs outside of traditional social media channels. It includes sharing through private messaging apps, email, and other forms of direct communication. The term “dark” is used because this type of sharing is difficult to track and analyze, making it challenging for marketers to accurately measure its impact. However, dark social can be a valuable source of traffic and can be leveraged by entrepreneurs for growth hacking purposes.

Definition of Dark Social

Dark social is the term used to describe the social sharing that occurs through private channels, such as email, messaging apps, and direct messaging. Unlike sharing on public social media platforms, dark social refers to the sharing that is not easily trackable or measurable. This makes it difficult for marketers to attribute this type of traffic to specific sources and analyze its impact. Dark social is an important and often overlooked aspect of referral traffic.

Examples of Dark Social Channels

Some examples of dark social channels include private messaging apps like WhatsApp, Signal, and Telegram, email, SMS, and direct messaging on platforms like Facebook Messenger and Instagram Direct. Whenever someone shares a link or content privately with their friends, family, or colleagues, it falls under the category of dark social. It is estimated that a significant portion of online sharing happens through these private channels, making it an important area for growth hacking.

Understanding Dark Social Traffic

To effectively utilize dark social for growth hacking, it is crucial to understand the different types of dark social traffic, how it is generated, and its advantages.

Types of Dark Social Traffic

Dark social traffic can be categorized into two types: intentional and unintentional. Intentional dark social traffic refers to when users deliberately share content through private channels, such as sending a link to a friend via email. Unintentional dark social traffic occurs when a user shares a link or content without realizing that it is not trackable, such as copying and pasting a URL directly into a messaging app.

How Dark Social Traffic is generated

Dark social traffic is typically generated when users come across interesting or valuable content and decide to share it privately with their connections. This could be done through copying and pasting a URL, using the share button within an app, or simply by sharing the content verbally. Since this type of sharing happens outside of public social platforms, it often goes unnoticed by marketers unless specific tracking measures are in place.

Advantages of Dark Social Traffic

Dark social traffic can provide several advantages for growth hacking purposes. Firstly, it often indicates a high level of engagement and interest from the users, as they are motivated to share the content directly with their connections. This can lead to increased website traffic, brand exposure, and conversion rates. Secondly, dark social traffic can be a valuable source of genuine, organic referrals, as it relies on personal recommendations and trust among friends and acquaintances.

How Dark Social Can Be Used for Growth Hacking

Dark social can be effectively utilized by entrepreneurs for growth hacking purposes, including increasing website traffic, driving conversion, and building brand awareness.

Leveraging Dark Social for Increased Website Traffic

To leverage dark social for increased website traffic, entrepreneurs can encourage users to share content via private channels. This can be achieved by creating shareable content that is valuable, entertaining, or informative and providing easy tools for sharing, such as “share via email” or “share on messaging app” buttons. Additionally, optimizing the mobile experience can be crucial, as private sharing often happens on mobile devices.

Using Dark Social to Drive Conversion

Dark social can also be leveraged to drive conversion rates by optimizing the sharing experience. This can involve implementing personalized sharing options, such as pre-filled messages or personalized recommendations, to make the process more convenient and engaging for users. Additionally, entrepreneurs can incentivize sharing by offering exclusive discounts or rewards for users who share a specific offer or product with their connections.

Utilizing Dark Social for Brand Building and Awareness

Dark social can be an effective tool for brand building and awareness. By creating compelling and shareable content, entrepreneurs can encourage users to share their brand or product with their connections. This can amplify the reach and exposure of the brand, leading to increased awareness and potential customer acquisition. Engaging in conversations within messaging apps and private channels can also help build a strong brand presence and establish trust among users.

Strategies to Implement Dark Social for Growth Hacking

To effectively implement dark social for growth hacking, entrepreneurs can utilize several strategies to optimize sharing, track and analyze dark social traffic, and leverage influencer marketing.

Create Shareable Content

The first strategy is to create content that is highly shareable. This involves understanding the interests and preferences of the target audience and tailoring the content accordingly. Content that evokes emotions, provides practical value, or sparks conversations is more likely to be shared. Additionally, entrepreneurs can experiment with different formats, such as videos, infographics, or interactive quizzes, to make the content more engaging and share-worthy.

Implement Sharing Widgets and Short URLs

To facilitate and streamline the sharing process, entrepreneurs can implement sharing widgets on their website or app. These widgets allow users to easily share content via email, messaging apps, or social media platforms. Short URLs can also be used to track and analyze dark social traffic by adding tracking parameters or using URL shorteners that provide detailed analytics.

Track and Analyze Dark Social Traffic

To understand the impact of dark social and make data-driven decisions, entrepreneurs should track and analyze dark social traffic. This can be done by using social media analytics tools that provide insights into the sources of traffic, engagement metrics, and conversion rates. By identifying patterns and trends in dark social traffic, entrepreneurs can optimize their content strategy and allocation of resources.

Leverage Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing can be a powerful strategy to leverage dark social for growth hacking. By collaborating with influencers who have a strong presence on messaging apps or email newsletters, entrepreneurs can tap into their established networks and reach a wider audience. Influencers can share content directly with their followers, increasing the chances of it being shared further through dark social channels. This can lead to increased brand exposure, website traffic, and potential conversions.

Tools and Techniques for Measuring and Analyzing Dark Social

To effectively measure and analyze dark social traffic, entrepreneurs can utilize various tools and techniques that provide insights into referral sources and engagement metrics.

Social Media Analytics Tools

Several social media analytics tools, such as Google Analytics, can provide insights into the sources of traffic to a website or app. By analyzing the referral traffic, entrepreneurs can identify the proportion of dark social traffic and understand its impact on key metrics, such as bounce rate and conversion rate. These tools also offer features for tracking conversions and engagement rates, providing a comprehensive view of the impact of dark social.

URL Shorteners and Trackers

URL shorteners and trackers can help entrepreneurs track and analyze dark social traffic by adding tracking parameters to the URLs shared through private channels. These tools provide detailed analytics on the number of clicks, geographic distribution, and other engagement metrics. Additionally, some URL shorteners offer analytics on the devices used for accessing the content, allowing entrepreneurs to optimize their mobile experience for dark social traffic.

Referral Traffic Analysis

Analyzing the referral traffic data in Google Analytics or similar tools can provide insights into the sources of traffic, including dark social. By identifying patterns and trends in the referral sources, entrepreneurs can understand which channels are driving the most traffic and engagement. This information can be used to optimize content strategy, target specific channels for growth hacking, and allocate resources effectively.

Case Studies of Successful Dark Social Campaigns

Examining case studies of successful dark social campaigns can provide insights into how entrepreneurs have effectively utilized dark social for growth hacking purposes.

Case Study 1: XYZ Company's Viral Dark Social Campaign

XYZ Company, an e-commerce retailer, launched a viral dark social campaign to drive website traffic and increase brand awareness. They created an interactive quiz that allowed users to find their “perfect product match.” The quiz was fun, engaging, and easily shareable through messaging apps and email. They also incentivized sharing by offering a discount code for every user who shared the quiz with their connections. The campaign quickly gained traction, with thousands of users sharing the quiz and driving a significant increase in website traffic and conversions.

Case Study 2: ABC Brand's Dark Social Strategy for Massive Outreach

ABC Brand, a fashion retailer, implemented a dark social strategy to reach a wide audience and build brand awareness. They collaborated with popular fashion influencers who had a strong presence on messaging apps and email newsletters. The influencers shared exclusive sneak peeks of upcoming collections and offered personalized styling tips to their followers. This led to a surge in dark social traffic and engagement, expanding the brand's reach and generating significant buzz among the target audience.

Challenges and Risks Associated with Dark Social

While dark social can be a valuable tool for growth hacking, there are several challenges and risks associated with it that entrepreneurs should be aware of.

Attribution and Tracking Difficulties

One of the primary challenges of dark social is the difficulty in accurately attributing and tracking the traffic. Since dark social sharing happens outside of traditional social media platforms, it is not easily trackable without the use of specialized tools. This makes it challenging for entrepreneurs to measure the impact of their dark social efforts and make data-driven decisions.

Privacy and Security Concerns

Dark social involves sharing content privately with specific individuals or small groups. While this provides a sense of privacy and exclusivity, it also raises privacy and security concerns. Users may hesitate to share content if they feel that their personal information or conversations could be compromised. Entrepreneurs need to prioritize user privacy and ensure that their dark social campaigns comply with applicable data protection regulations.

Fake News and Misinformation

With the rise of dark social, there is an increased risk of fake news and misinformation being shared through private channels. Since dark social is difficult to track and monitor, it becomes challenging to identify and mitigate the spread of false information. Entrepreneurs should be cautious when leveraging dark social and ensure that the content they create and share is accurate, credible, and aligned with ethical standards.

Ethical Considerations of Dark Social Growth Hacking

While dark social can be a powerful tool for growth hacking, entrepreneurs must approach it with ethical considerations in mind.

Respecting User Privacy and Consent

Respecting user privacy and obtaining their consent is crucial when leveraging dark social for growth hacking purposes. Entrepreneurs should provide clear information about the data they collect, how it will be used, and who will have access to it. Additionally, users should have the option to opt out of sharing their data or being targeted with personalized campaigns.

Transparency and Disclosure

Entrepreneurs should prioritize transparency and disclosure in their dark social campaigns. Users should be informed when content is being shared through dark social channels and provided with clear information on how to opt out or control the sharing of their data. Being transparent about the use of dark social and the data collected can help build trust with users and maintain ethical standards.


Dark social is a valuable and often overlooked aspect of referral traffic that entrepreneurs can leverage for growth hacking purposes. By understanding the types of dark social traffic, how it is generated, and its advantages, entrepreneurs can effectively utilize dark social to increase website traffic, drive conversions, and build brand awareness. Implementing strategies such as creating shareable content, utilizing sharing widgets, tracking and analyzing dark social traffic, and leveraging influencer marketing can help entrepreneurs tap into the potential of dark social. However, it is essential to be aware of the challenges and risks associated with dark social, such as attribution difficulties, privacy concerns, and misinformation. By approaching dark social growth hacking with ethical considerations, including respecting user privacy and ensuring transparency, entrepreneurs can harness the power of dark social while maintaining ethical standards.

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