At a basic level, dark social, is the way we used to share, before there were one-click sharing social platforms that enabled (and tracked) everything we share.
Today, we have one-click sharing platforms like twitter, facebook, reddit, and many more. When a user shares content on your site and their friend then comes to that location, then your web analytics will show the source of that traffic as twitter, facebook, reddit, respectively.
However, a lot of people don’t like these social networks knowing everything they share. Or even more common is that a person just wants to share your content with a few targeted people and not their entire social circle (even if they have taken the time to segment their friends into groups). How do these people share?
The answer is that they generally share the old-fashioned way – via email or chat. This is referral traffic without a source, which is dark social. It appears as direct traffic in your web analytics program even though it was really referred traffic. Dark social is essentially the sharing that we’ve always done on the web but before the social platforms made that easier and more trackable. Hence, the recent need to differentiate between social and dark social.
So how can you tell how much dark social traffic you’re getting? The best way is to evaluate your direct traffic and make an inference based on the entry pages. It’s entirely likely that someone is coming to your site from ww.yoursite.com or even www.yoursite.com/issues or some other obvious landing area on your site. However, it’s far less likely that a visitor will type in a direct url like www.yoursite.com/pages/98/clean-environment. If you review your direct traffic and you see entry pages like this, then you can easily determine your dark social traffic.