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How to align your social strategy with the rise of private sharing

4 min read

Social Media

Social media always changes and so do people’s sharing and communication habits. In this blog post I would like to put social sharing into a different perspective, shedding light on alternative trends and how these can affect social media strategy and performance measurement.

How do people share? 

It is obvious that Facebook is a widely used social media platform for sharing; last year it accounted for the majority of shares among open platforms. But address bar sharing (copy-pasting URLs), instant messaging, online chats and e-mails are still popular, growing channels for social sharing.

Those channels are actually where the majority of all social sharing takes place, but the traffic isn’t traceable. This is called dark social traffic, which is generated when links are copy pasted and shared via communication platforms such as e-mail, online chats and instant messaging apps.

Dark social sharing is more than three times bigger than sharing through Facebook, and the rise of sharing on mobile is expected to accelerate that trend.

If you look at the sharing trends you can see a very interesting emerging trend. People tend to share more content with small groups of people on private channels. Many people simply don’t want to show and share everything publicly.

A user can choose between wide variety of private sharing options such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Viber and e-mail, which help them share content with people they already know. It doesn’t mean that people will ignore public sharing channels. But it does mean that sharing is becoming more diverse and messaging is becoming a major player in this game.

Impact on analysis 

The problem is that this growing private sharing is a major roadblock for Web analytics. Google Analytics considers this traffic as direct traffic, but these visitors are actually coming from social platforms (such as IM apps). Why? This infographic explains everything about this phenomenon.

Marketers struggle to prove ROI for social media, and part of the problem could be because dark social traffic is not being measured. That means social media traffic is undervalued, because it’s being labeled as direct traffic.

Companies put a lot of effort into the biggest social media platforms (Twitter and Facebook) and spend a considerable amount of money on them. But people tend to spread among different social media platforms and they have many options to share content online. Content shared on these social platforms are different. On private channels, people share items on topics including personal finance, travel and technology.

You could say that companies are spending their money to uncover what’s happening on the left, while the important question is what’s happening on the right.

If you look at the picture to the right (click to enlarge), you can see that the difference between content shared on Facebook (public) and via e-mail (private).

Target audiences differ on these social platforms, so the content and messaging should be different. Brands have to diversify their channels and focus on platforms where their audience hangs out. It is necessary in order to improve targeting, increase engagement and conversion.

Companies should provide more sharing options, so people can choose the most suitable option for sharing. It is worth adding sharing buttons, which make easier for users to share content via email or instant messaging apps (WhatsApp already has an official sharing button). It will help make analytics cleaner, because by using these special buttons dark social traffic can be partly traceable. Finally, it leads to more punctual performance measurement.

For example, USA Today introduced WhatsApp sharing button to its mobile site and now WhatsApp accounts for 18% of the overall sharing activity.

However it also makes sense to leverage the existing sharing behavior of consumers, such as copy-pasting URLs. It’s always easier to grasp how your audience is already doing instead of trying to change their behavior.


Social sharing isn’t only sharing on open social media platforms. People tend to share more on mobile, on different social media channels and privately. Private sharing is an emerging trend, which tricks Web analytics by generating untraceable traffic, and could mean social media is being undervalued.

Private channels bring the long tail to the sharing story. Individual reach can be small, but the large amount of people sharing via these channels and due to the higher trust and more focused targeting CTR and conversion can be higher, than in case of public sharing.

Instead of focusing on social media platform, companies could create strategies that would follow their audiences through their entire social experience no matter where they are.

Tamas Torok is an Inbound Marketer and Growth Hacker at a startup company called Brandvee. He frequently writes about social media, content marketing and startup hacks at the Brandvee Blog.