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Dark Social: Why Irish Marketers need to wake up to the rise of social sharing through private channels

Posted By MediaCom, Tuesday 17 October 2017


When we think of people sharing content, we often revert to Facebook. However, Facebook is, and has become, a channel of mass reach as its newsfeed has become geared more to boost Facebook’s commercial revenue streams rather than just help conversation. This is reflected in Mark Zuckerberg’s “family of apps” strategy to capture all kinds of sharing; one-to-one, one-to-few and one-to-many. So, what’s happening outside of sharing on Facebook?

‘Dark Social’ is a term coined by Alexis C. Madrigal, senior editor at The Atlantic, to describe the sharing of content that occurs outside of what can be measured by web analytics programmes. This mostly occurs when a link is sent via online chat or email, rather than shared over a social media platform, from which referrals can be measured.

Content & Connections agency, MediaCom Ireland and RadiumOne, the sharing analytics specialists, conducted quantitative research through iReach over Summer 2017, to gain an understanding into the type of content consumers are sharing through private and public channels and the underlying motivations for doing so.

Ian McGrath, MD of MediaCom Ireland said “The volume of content being shared away from sight, on dark social channels, is something which can’t be ignored. Monitoring what is being shared on Facebook and other public platforms is only one piece of the puzzle in understanding how content travels and is consumed.”


#1        Sharing online content is a popular activity: 66% of Irish people share content on Facebook.

#2        But not all sharing happens on Facebook: 4 of the top 5 platforms for sharing online content are private communication (dark social) channels (Email, Whatsapp, Text, Facebook Messenger)

#3        Tried and tested channels more popular with older consumers: Those aged 55+ are more likely than other age cohorts to share online content via Email / Text. 75% share via email and 57% via text. The indication here is that older consumers place greater trust in these well-established communication platforms.

#3        Maintaining privacy is the top reason for using ‘dark social’ channels: 63% of dark social users select this as the primary reason, rising to 74% of 55+ who demonstrate the greatest privacy concerns.

#4        Everybody’s got a dark side: We represent different sides of ourselves on different platforms. 29% of ‘dark social users’ use these channels for sharing content because they deem it to be ‘for smaller groups’. 29% of social media users share content privately for entertainment/a laugh, rising to 42% of 16-34s. Young people are also twice as likely (11% v 5%) as 35-54s to make fun of someone or something via private channels.

#5        Across almost every content category, Irish people are more likely to share content privately than publicly

#6        Different content types are more aligned with certain channels: RadiumOne data shows that Arts and Entertainment content is more broadly shared, while Personal Finance and Property content are solely shared by one-to-one means such as WhatsApp, text or email

#7        Word of Mouth recommendations & reviews are more likely to take place on private channels, after purchase.


Sharing online content is a popular activity, fuelled by Millennials

While 66% of Irish adults share content such as articles or images they’ve seen online via Facebook, it’s important to note that 4 of the top 5 content sharing channels are private channels (or ‘dark social’).

Young people (16-34s) are the most likely to share things they’ve seen online on every platform, with the exception of email and text/iMessage.

On these longer-established platforms, those aged 55+ are more likely than other age cohorts to share online content. 75% share via email and 57% via text. The indication here is that older consumers place greater trust in these platforms.


Using dark social channels allows people to present a different side of themselves

29% of social-media users share content privately because it’s for entertainment/a laugh. This rises to 42% of 18-34s compared to just 10% of 55+ and 35% of 35-54s.

While the percentages are small, young people (11%) are also twice as likely at 35-54s (5%) to make fun of someone or something privately and 4x more likely than 55+ (3%).

Across almost every content category, Irish people claim to share more content privately than publicly

Despite the 318 photos tagged with #Selfie on Instagram, photos, including selfies, are much more likely to be shared privately. Holiday/travel content, videos, sales/promotions, house/car content is also more likely to be shared privately.

…and actual data from RadiumOne’s tracking backs this up

RadiumOne data shows that, on average, across 16 categories, 73% of all content is shared via private (dark social) channels. We can see from the chart below that Arts and Entertainment content, as well as Home & Garden, is more broadly shared, while Personal Finance and Property are solely shared by personal means.


Word of Mouth recommendations & reviews are more likely to take place on private channels, after purchase

25% of Irish adults share content privately after making a purchase and 22% share content before making a purchase. Meanwhile, on public social media channels, 18% share content after purchase and 14% pre-purchase. This shows how important the conversations taking place on dark social channels are in the purchase journey.

Easy actions advertisers can take today to respond to Dark Social

  • Test & learn
  • Include referral tags (UTM codes or parameters) in all your own posting when using private sharing channels – typically copied and pasted links do not automatically include tracking tags in these channels (unless the shared link was copied with a tag included).
  • Review the direct traffic to your website for links without UTM parameters
  • Use shortened URLs for outbound links of your content.
  • Prioritise social share buttons on your website.
  • Link blog post titles to external content and webpages.
  • Use ‘dark social’ tools or partners to track traffic origins and their outcomes.



Ian McGrath, Managing Director, MediaCom Ireland:

“For Irish advertisers, tagging and monitoring traffic from these dark social sources is becoming less murky, and we’ve seen many of these channels start to be commercialised. As a result, marketing through private sharing channels should be a more regular feature of a brand’s advertising and media strategy”.

Vicky Shekleton, Planning and Insights Manager, MediaCom Ireland:

“This study highlights that we need to think beyond Facebook when considering what content drives conversation and sharing. We now know that users share and consume different content across different private and public channels and there is an opportunity to differentiate marketing messages for these channels too. Generic AV copy may work on reach social media like Facebook but wouldn’t generate the same impact on dark social channels.”  

Toby Swire, Head of Regional Sales, RadiumOne

"Taking advantage of consumer sharing behaviours has thus far been a widely untapped resource by marketers. By analysing and acting upon consumer sharing signals, marketers get a real-time view into what consumers are interested in and where they are on their journey. This research confirms just how prevalent Dark Social sharing is across all age groups, and why marketers should take it seriously as a signal of intent when planning how best to reach audiences and with what messages."


This MediaCom / RadiumOne survey was conducted amongst 1,281 consumers using iReach’s consumer decisions panel. Fieldwork for the study was conducted via online survey to a nationally representative panel in July 2017.

For more information, please contact Vicky Shekleton at or   


MediaCom is “The Content + Connections Agency”, working on behalf of its clients to leverage their brands’ entire system of communications across paid, owned and earned channels to deliver a step change in their business outcomes.  MediaCom is one of the world’s leading media communications specialists, with billings of US$33 billion (Source: RECMA June 2017), employing 7,000 people in 125 offices across 100 countries. Its global client roster includes: Dell, Coca-Cola (TCCC), Mars, NBC Universal, P&G, PSA, Sony, Shell and Richemont.  The agency was recently named Global Agency of the Year at the 2017 M&M Awards, an accolade it has been awarded 7 times in the past 9 years and FOM Global Agency Network of the Year in 2017, winning an unprecedented 18 awards.

 MediaCom is a member of WPP, the world's largest marketing communications services group, and part of GroupM, WPP’s consolidated media investment management arm.

For more information, visit

 Find us on Twitter @mediacomireland


RadiumOne, a RhythmOne company, is the only data-driven marketing company that connects the dots between brands’ paid, earned, shared and owned assets to find and connect with high-value consumers. Through our ability to see the strongest signals of consumer intent and predict where consumers are on their journeys, we can build customized campaign strategies specific to your brand. RadiumOne delivers digital campaigns that are measured against real business outcomes. Headquartered in San Francisco, we have offices across North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific.

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