One of the greatest challenges for social media services firms is providing accurate success metrics to their clients. Business owners invest time and precious marketing dollars on social media marketing and customer engagement programs. They need to know what they are getting for their investment. Social media engagement or sharing measurement is becoming big business today.
Solutions are available in several levels of sophistication, a range in the number of profiles they will track, and pricing that ranges from free to tens of thousands of dollars per month. Regardless of the monitoring and measurement option you choose, or the amount you pay for it, there is a reason why your content sharing metrics are probably wrong.
The reason your content sharing metrics are probably wrong is that it is impossible to track all content sharing occurring on the internet, or in other ways. These other ways include
- Copy/paste the URL of the content into an email to someone with whom you want to share the content
- Copy/paste the content (perhaps an entire article) into an email to someone
- Write the URL on a piece of paper and give it to someone
- Share the URL in a chat message
- Printing the content and giving the copy to someone (probably only done today by people over age 45)
- Later, you or someone with whom you shared the content includes a link in an update or a blog post.
This kind of content engagement or sharing is called “dark social” because it is not visible to the programs that provide measurement or analytics. Analytics programs measure how people find content, how long they spend engaging with that content, and how they share it via social media. Programs can track the number of clicks on “share” buttons on your web content. These are the numbers in the analytics reports. Other types of content sharing cannot be tracked by monitoring software however.
Determining the amount of “dark social” sharing of your content is not easy. For a small business, it is almost impossible. Unless you are a major publisher, you are unlikely to be willing to spend vast amounts to try to determine how much of your traffic comes from email, and you may never know how much traffic comes from live chat apps, instant messaging, or a re-share of an email link.
The point for small businesses is not that you need to spend tens of thousands of dollars to try to determine every detail about how your content is shared. The point is that in evaluating the return on investment (ROI) of your social marketing and customer engagement/customer service cost, you need to understand that the mechanics of measurement and attribution of traffic sources is not yet what we might want it to be. Social media are still too new for precise measurement.
Of the big publishing companies that invest in this level of tracking, a recent study by Chartbeat indicated that as much as 50 to 70 percent of traffic to magazine sites like The Atlantic, news sites like The New York Times, and ESPN is “dark social.” Every small business owner that wants to assess the ROI of social media marketing programs needs to add in a “dark social” traffic source. How large the percentage of “dark social” traffic is for a business depends on the composition of the company’s audience.
Until the measurement technology catches up with the need of the business owner, analytics will be an inexact science. When you evaluate your social media program and your ROI, it is important to keep in mind that your metrics and analytics do not tell the whole story. The reason your content sharing metrics are probably wrong is that they cannot include an appropriate percentage of “dark social” traffic sources. By working with your social media services firm, you can try to estimate how your target audience is most likely to share your content and calculate what you believe is a fair estimate of “dark social” or hidden content sharing.