The Rise of Dark Social: What Firms Should Know

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By Omnizant Team
Law Firm Marketing Agency

What you can’t track, you can’t improve—but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important. Meet dark social, the untraceable web traffic that could be having a huge impact on your law firm’s business while lying to your face about its actual source. 

Social media is a powerful lead generation machine. It’s also where the decision-making process begins for some during the attorney selection process. However, peer-to-peer sharing in private messages and offline is very difficult to track. 

To overcome this predicament, we’re explaining everything attorneys need to know about dark social in order to keep your business growing and your analytics accurate.

Here is a quick primer on dark social, including examples of dark social, why dark social matters for lawyers, and how attorneys can embrace and adapt to dark social.

What exactly is dark social?

Word-of-mouth marketing has long been an important part of many firms’ business generation efforts. Over the years, this form of advertising has evolved and now includes social media. 

Dark social describes conversations that reference your brand but are impossible to track. They are “dark” because they are hard to track, not because there is anything nefarious about them. 

On any given post, it’s fairly obvious to see how many likes or comments the post has. But there are many more interactions that your social media analytics cannot and will not include. For instance, you may not be able to find out whether someone shared that link with a friend via WhatsApp.

Dark social is more common among certain demographics (like people 55+) who do not post to their own timelines very often.

Dark social can be powerful for your business—but it’s tricky to strategize around. It can bring a ton of traffic to your site but your attribution modeling may be incorrect, which can mislead you about your marketing strategy. 

Examples of dark social channels

These are a few examples of channels in which dark social conversations can take place:

  • Private social media messages on Instagram, Facebook, or LinkedIn
  • Direct messages or employee communications on platforms like Slack
  • Messages via text or WhatsApp 

Here is an example scenario that shows how dark social could create an untraceable or misattributed lead.

Let’s say you are a family law attorney and create a great Facebook post with a link to a blog article you wrote with tips on how parents in the midst of a divorce can set boundaries and successfully co-parent. Laura, the sister of your paralegal and a follower of your page, sees your post and finds it interesting. She decides to share it with her friends Janelle and Karen who are both going through a divorce. Karen doesn’t have Facebook, so Laura drops the link to the article into a group text message. Both recipients click on the link and Karen even decides to share it with her attorney when referencing her own drafted custody agreement. 

In the above scenario, you may only see one visitor from Facebook. But you’d likely see three other visitors who are labeled as “Direct” although this all started from a single Facebook post.

In this scenario, the attribution fails to recognize that it was your influential social post that resulted in this visit (and, of course, some visits may result in clients). When attribution can’t be established, it can be hard to demonstrate any kind of ROI for social media marketing. 

Why should attorneys care about dark social?

The attorney selection process is happening on dark social.

Your major goal is to influence a person’s decision about who to hire when they’re looking for a law firm, right? That’s why you are investing in digital assets like social media content, a website, and paid ads—to sway someone at the moment of their decision-making.

While a great website is absolutely essential, it may not be the element that ultimately leads someone to hire your firm. People trust people when it comes to making a purchase decision—and people spend time together on social media.

Your social media metrics might be underperforming and misleading, but your social media content could still be having a big impact on your business.

In other words, your social media may be resulting in conversions even if the ROI in your social media analytics isn’t very compelling. That’s because dark social cannot be measured even if your social media content is leading to conversions via untraceable peer-to-peer shares.

Because of the way people make decisions today, your law firm may need to invest more heavily in social media marketing—even if your stats say otherwise.

Tips to work with—instead of against—dark social 

Not knowing how your content is performing can be alarming, but lean into it. Once you understand how dark social works, you can work with it instead of against it. 

→ Create content that is share-worthy to encourage dark social sharing among friends.

Instead of a press release about a verdict or a post about a new hire, try timely thought leadership content. Take a stance and offer value to become a real resource for people. 

→ Review your social media metrics critically, and let the data inform your next content.

Are you more likely to open a link that your sister sends your way? So, too, is your prospective client. While your analytics data may not list Facebook as the referral source, a spike in direct traffic to one page could clue you in that this page was recently shared on dark social.

Follow this energy and repurpose or expand on well-performing content and topics.

Measuring and tracking dark social

There are some ways to improve tracking for dark social. Even though you’ll never have 100% certainty about the source of dark social, some information is better than none.

UTM codes are bits of code that get attached to the end of a URL, and they can help you determine the source of the traffic.

For example, you could share the same post to LinkedIn and Facebook but use a different UTM for each post. This way, your analytics will show how many clicks came from LinkedIn versus Facebook. However, if someone shares this Facebook UTM link to a friend via text—or posts the Facebook UTM link to their LinkedIn—subsequent visitors who use that link will still appear as traffic coming from Facebook.

Google Analytics has an advanced segment tool with filters that can help you better analyze website traffic.

Dark social traffic usually shows up as direct traffic in your Google Analytics. But if someone gets to your web page by typing in your URL or by bookmarking your page, it will appear as direct traffic. Improve your data analysis by setting up filters in GA that exclude the simple URLs that are easy to type.

Add a field to your contact form that says “How did you hear about us?”

Ask your leads directly how they found you. Provide them with a dropdown menu including options like Social Media, From a Friend or Colleague, Google Search, and more.

Be aware that text-based content, static images, and natively posted videos that are uploaded directly to the platform can be very difficult to track.

Review and next steps

Don’t sleep on social, lawyers! Direct attribution is challenging with dark social, but that’s where many people make a decision about who to hire. 

The reality is that you simply cannot afford to ignore the power of dark social even though the murky attribution can make it difficult to justify to your executive leadership.

Get help from skilled digital marketers. Improve the way you track traffic so you don’t base your content strategy on incorrect data. 

If you are a legal professional and you need help with your online presence, Omnizant can provide comprehensive digital solutions and impeccable data analysis.

About the Author
Since 2006, Omnizant's team of digital marketing experts, designers, developers and writers has helped over 2,000 law firms develop powerful websites that drive business growth.