What Is “Dark Social Media”? (And Why It Matters)

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What Is Dark Social Media And Why It

I don’t know about you, but I keep hearing about dark social media.

It’s come up enough times lately for me to do a little research on it; I was thinking I had missed the boat on some important social media trend.

Turns out I’m not so behind!

In fact, in April of 2013, I wrote a post about dark social media (even though I didn’t know that term at the time).

Dark social makes up the majority of social media interactions and needs to be at the forefront of marketer’s minds.

Dark Social Media

So, What Is Dark Social Media?

I’ll start with a question:

“How many times have you clicked on a post, a tweet, an article, online but never “liked,” commented or shared?”

Probably A LOT. For me, it’s up there with the majority of my social behaviors (“liking” things is probably a close 2nd … I have issues!).

Dark social may show up as a click, or a bookmark, or the oh-so-annoying (and dreaded) “direct” traffic in your reports.

It eludes most analytic platforms and is ignored by many marketers.

Luckily our CRM captures some traffic sources for us, so we’re like all, “HEEEEEY!” when you show up from Facebook or one of my SteamFeed articles.

But again, most of what comes through is considered “dark” because we literally have no idea how you found our website or social platforms.

I think the best analogy here is to think back to each of the posts you’ve seen from friends on Facebook asking for a recommendation.

Susie asks if anyone has a good roofer in the Lebanon, NJ area and gets two or three responses with links on her post, emailed to her, or through messenger.

Susie then shows up on those sites and eventually books a roofer.

Because of the way Susie got the link, the company may or may not know how Susie ended up on their site (and they with her business).

We know the answer is social media … most companies don’t. Including you (and me!).

Invisible Audiences

Your Invisible Audience

Buffer wrote a post about invisible audiences with the most notable part saying:

“Back in 2006, bloggers Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba coined a term to describe the ratio of activity in online forums: The 1% Rule, also known as the 90-9-1 Rule.

– 1 percent of users are creators

– 9 percent of users are commenters

– 90 percent of users are observers”

While this ratio may not specifically describe your audience, the main thing to understand is that around 90% of your audience is made up of lurkers.

There are ways to measure your invisible audiences; read the above-mentioned Buffer post for exactly how to do so.

Jay Baer has also joined in on this “invisible audience” and says social media success is now a volume play.

Jay also drove his point home by saying,

“If I send out a tweet, the 124,000 who have said they want to hear from me won’t see that tweet. A small cross-section (usually about 2,000, according to my Twitter stats) will see it instead. Thus, my theoretical reach is 124,000, but my reliable reach is about 1.6% of that, and the actual people comprising that 1.6% shifts somewhat from tweet to tweet. The same dynamics exist on Linkedin, Pinterest, Instagram, Google +, and especially Facebook.”

Scary, right?

If we think about the players in the game, Facebook is by far the most volatile. The EdgeRank algorithm throws a wrench into basic reach numbers by adding different layers to what is seen.

With Jay’s shotgun theory, it’s less about building a BIG audience on one particular platform, and spreading multiple messages on multiple platforms.

It kinda goes against everything you hear, but based on the math it makes the most sense.

The Problem With “Fixing” Dark & Invisible Social

Lurkers Gonna Lurk

If you’re reading this and you’re a lurker (which many of you are based on my analytics!), I highly doubt I can make you “visible” just by saying, “Hey, do me a favor and let me know you’re reading this.”

Maybe, just maybe, it’d work on one or two peeps.

The rest of the lurkers will keep on lurking (more power to ya – I can be Lurky Loo, too!).

Your best bet — if you want to know more about your invisible audiences — is to:

  1. Do the math (follow the instructions on the Buffer post and see what your ratios are)
  2. Make sure you’re using social media as a sidekick of your owned media (and focus more time on owned media)
  3. Continue to ask for participation with clever calls-to-action
  4. Keep up a consistent schedule on ALL of your social channels

Pray & Spray? Really?

To Jay’s point, if you’re only active on Facebook, it may all be for not.

If you have other channels — but aren’t using them (or are using them infrequently) — I suggest ramping up your efforts or closing them down. You don’t want to send the “keep knocking cause nobody’s home” message.

Additionally, even if you take Jay’s shotgun approach and post more content, you’re likely to lose followers.

While you might see an upswing at first by posting more, eventually if you’re offering nothing new we get fatigued.

Our tight schedules allow for less and less info to be absorbed (content shock), and if you’re pumping out more and more of the same we’re likely to disconnect or go back to being an invisible user.

I know what you’re thinking. I’m contradicting myself.

But these are two schools of thought that are both connected … they just have different approaches.

I’m not sure I can buy into Jay’s, but I do see how based on REAL reach numbers his way makes sense.

What About YOU?

I’ll turn it over to you.

What do YOU think about dark social media, invisible audiences, and how to overcome it/them? Is it even possible? Will your social strategies change due to dark social, or stay the same?


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Brooke B. Sellas is an award-winning Customer Marketing Strategist and the CEO & Founder of B Squared Media. Her book, Conversations That Connect has been recognized nationally and is required reading for a Customer Experience class at NSU. Brooke's influence in digital marketing is not just about her accomplishments but also about her unwavering commitment to elevating the industry standard of digital customer experience and customer marketing.
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6 Comments. Leave new

  • The two schools of thought you mention frustrate me. I get annoyed when I see crappy accounts based solely on that math, pushing the same blog post over and over, because if 100k followers care, you won’t care about losing the whiny ones in the margins.

    At the same time, an idyllic form of social media that mirrors a quaint farmers village where everyone knows each other and engages in wonderful interactions that build real relationships is not sustainable when you have sowing and reaping to do.

    I agree with all of your four solutions, and I think my frustration in execution mirrors yours. We want valuable connections that make us feel valued and valuable at the same time, but we also know that to get there, we first have to bow to the algorithm to make those connections happen in the first place and send out more of the same, so people can see how unique we are. Sometimes, social media feels like speed dating, where you have to routinely work yourself through the masses looking for a connection that the event advertised would happen all the time.

    Maybe in the end, we find leverage in the masses, and success in the margins. The dark social matter helps you, too, if at least as social proof. After all, aren’t faceless masses not just the top of the funnel? The worst you can do is worry about the social dark media at the expense of your true connections, or you’ll end up being like the host of a party who spends every conversation with you secretly looking at the door to see who else is coming in.

    • Hi, Bas!

      What a great comment – THANK YOU! You’re right, it does feel like speed dating (which leaves us feeling frustrated and “cheap” many times). I think your point about dark masses just being at the top of the funnel is spot on. Perhaps we need to try harder to get them to convert from lurkers to engagers – but we all know that’s easier said than done, and even then there’s much to do to convert those peeps into qualified leads.

      Simply love all of your analogies. Thank you for taking the time to share them with us! 🙂

  • Avatar
    Cendrine Marrouat
    September 29, 2014 10:57 PM

    I think that the most important thing to remember is that we cannot please everyone.

    When it comes to lurkers, most of them just test the waters and will never take any action on our content. It doesn’t matter what you do, they will read (or skim) and leave. Or they will tell you that your content rock. When you ask them why they didn’t share, they will say that, “Oh well, I didn’t think about it.”

    They are not the right folks for you.

    Just remember that what really matters here is how committed you are to producing quality content. That’s ultimately how you attract the good audience. 🙂

    • Agree, Cendrine! It’s always best to focus on what you have and not on what you don’t (that’s a good life lesson, too!). 😉

      Thanks for not being a lurker and sharing your thoughts with us.

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    […] Brooke Ballard also explains about this important concept in her article: What is “Dark Social Media”? (And why it matters). […]


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