Today’s companies have a plethora of data at their fingertips. This can be anything from data submitted by consumers, company data generated over time, right through to data logged from social media interactions.

However, with our recent survey of 900 million users finding that 74% of  all digital sharing in the UK currently takes place via channels such as  email, Whatsapp and forums, brands are clearly missing out on insight from a huge volume of data that can help them find their next customer.

This kind of sharing is known as “dark social”. It refers to any inbound web traffic coming from sources that web analytics are unable to track. It typically occurs when online content is shared by copying a URL and pasting it into message platforms such as email, forums or instant messages, rather than sharing it via established social networks. And, if captured, the data generated by it is called “Dark Social” data.

The honesty of Dark Social data makes it a hugely valuable source of insight because it presents brands with an incredibly accurate picture of the sharer’s (and recipient’s) interest and intent to buy, in real-time, across any device. However, without the means to understand or action it effectively, any value it holds is instantly lost.

So how can companies harvest and then harness the power of this data? Here are four steps that will propel your business forward and help deliver ROI on your marketing spend using Dark Social data:

Recognise the value

Dark Social data is important for two key reasons. Firstly, it reveals a layer of insights beyond what can be gleaned from sharing in social forums such as Facebook or Twitter. While this makes it innately valuable, we shouldn’t overlook the fact that most content is shared “in the dark”. In fact, 26% of people only share in the dark, meaning brands that don’t have a dark social strategy, know nothing about a quarter of their UK consumers online – this rises to a third globally. So it goes without saying that the first step to profiting from this data is recognising its value and ensuring the right stakeholders in your business are aware of it.

Track your shared content better by harnessing short URLs

There’s no point having a content strategy or an online presence if you don’t subsequently use the data online interactions generate. While social media platforms offer easy tracking of data and user engagement, brands should look to ensure that if content moves off their web presence and into the dark, they can still track this interaction. A great way to do this is with shortened URLs.

Most brands and publishers use shortened URLs when they share links across all channels. However, very few action the data that is generated from these shortened URLs. By using a link shortener such as, advertisers and publishers can not only create short URLs to drive traffic, they can also use the resulting data to improve their digital marketing and branded content activities and drive improved conversion and prospecting activities. Most importantly, by using the right link shortener, brands can protect their data from being sold to or used by competitors.

Consolidate your analytics

Whether you manage your analytics in-house, outsource them to a third-party or do a bit of both, you need to consolidate your data and ensure it’s segmented and activated. This can give you actionable insights, whether that’s in adapting your strategy or serving advertising. From our research we’ve found that the topics discussed across dark social channels are typically more one-to-one in their nature, such as food, property, careers, and personal finance.

Act on social data in real-time

Dark Social and short URL sharing generate significant volumes of valuable real-time data. However, this data is often left in silos, or not activated at the time consumers are showing genuine interest and intent. This means that its value is limited to insights and analytics. Rather than letting the data stagnate however, capture and activate your social data programmatically using a data management and demand-side platform (DMP and DSP).The DMP collects, integrates and manages large sets of data, like advertising performance, CRM data and website visitation data, allowing the DSP to programmatically acquire media across advertising exchanges and private marketplace environments while considering data derived from the DMP. In short, this allows brands and publishers to act on their data in real-time, and in an automated fashion, while maximising its value and the value of their inventory. The result is advertising that works more like CRM.

This is incredibly powerful – acting on dark social presents a huge opportunity for brands to improve their ROI from their social media and digital marketing investments. Harnessing engaged audiences at scale, in real-time, across any device will be a big marketing play over the next 12 months.