Analytics has a ‘Dark’ side says PBT Group

It has been suggested by an eMarketer report that approximately one in four people worldwide will use social networks in 2013.

August 6, 2013

It has been suggested by an eMarketer report* entitled ‘Worldwide Social Network Users: 2013 Forecast and Comparative Estimates,’ that approximately one in four people worldwide will use social networks in 2013. Further to this, the number of social network users globally will increase from 1.47 billion in 2012 to 1.73 billion this year – representing an increase of 18%.

Jessie Rudd, a Data Analyst at PBT Group says; “Such figures certainly indicate not only the popularity of social media, but that this phenomenon is impacting people’s lives and has revolutionised the Web and how people and businesses interact with each other every day. Hence the fact that businesses have begun to embrace social media platforms and are spending time and massive amounts of money developing strategies for using social media as a way of finding out more about their existing and potential customers. However, there is a hidden side to social media that these businesses are not necessarily aware of.”

Social media has meant that Web users now have the ability to connect with friends and strangers across vast distances. In fact, Internet ‘living’ has became the norm for many and with that, inevitably, this form of private, and highly addictive sharing has very quickly shifted to public publishing – where social media businesses look to structure, archive and increasingly monetise on individuals publications.

Continues Rudd; “With this, a whole new form of analytics has emerged – as the ability to track and monitor referrals, to and from various sites, has become more important for businesses today.”

As a result, organisations are developing easy-to-use tools that enable companies to trace the origin of a ‘click’. “This is not a difficult aspect to do. For example, on your Facebook page you click on a link to, for example, a news site. A little piece of metadata goes along for the ride and tells this news site’s servers where your ‘click’ originated from. This news site can then do statistical analysis of who originated from where and in doing so, how to focus their marketing strategies. In fact, entire departments and massive budgets are now devoted to this – yet, new research is showing that despite this, businesses are not getting the full picture.”

For marketing campaigns to be effective they must be based on accurate research and figures, however, research** shows that only 20% of referrals are coming from Facebook, with 69% of social referrals originating from unknown sources. “If such a large portion of these sources are unknown, by default, a marketing strategy being developed focusing on the lower figure of 20%, will likely be flawed, as businesses are not able to measure the data from the unknown sources.”

This is what the industry has termed the ‘Dark Social’ movement. It refers to the massive amounts of social traffic that is by and large invisible to most analytics programmes. True ‘Dark Social’ is made up of the links that are being shared outside of the social media space, such as via Skype or private messages as well as e-mailed links.

Continues Rudd; “Dark Social is the underbelly of the Internet – it refers to those outside tradition social media users, who are sharing links and pointing their friends and followers to particular sites, yet each one is going unnoticed, untraceable and therefore unmeasured as their ‘clicks’ are not being traced.”

Most businesses that specialise in tracking and tracing have not yet determined a way to track Dark Social, and there is currently no analytics tool that has successfully and consistency been able to track Dark Social movement.

“Imagine the inherent power in being able to shape this underbelly – to have a larger view of one’s consumer or users! As most are at a complete loss on how to achieve this, perhaps a way forward is to not look into the tracking and tracing of this, but to rather focus on the shaping and influencing of those who inhabit the ‘private’ social world – to place a focus once again on the human element of consumer behaviour and not rely too heavily on technology in developing marketing strategies and plans;” concludes Rudd.

* Social Networking Reaches Nearly One in Four Around the World, http://www.emarketer.com/Article/Social-Networking-Reaches-Nearly-One-Four-Around-World/1009976#rSOHXTifvfXPA30k.99 
**Dark Social: We Have the Whole History of the Web Wrong, http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/10/dark-social-we-have-the-whole-history-of-the-web-wrong/263523/