Dark Social Media, shareability You don’t see

Sotrender Research Team has analyzed the communications of UK IT brands and tech blogs. The results of the research show it’s possible, that the photos no longer constitute the best content to publish on Facebook pages. Although many social media managers may be not aware of this fact, links can be the source of the highest overall interactivity and shareability.

On the occasion of infoShare, conference concerning IT and New Media, we wanted to gain a deeper insight into the phenomenon called Dark Social. It’s the first analysis using this approach entirely devoted to social media. For our analysis, we chose one of the most dynamic categories i.e. IT and Electronics. You will find out how fans react on specific types of communications and how big is the gap between what you see under your post and the actual interactivity through the whole Facebook.

Why IT?

Before passing to the explanation of the results, we’d like to describe in few words  the research itself. On the occasion of infoShare – the conference devoted to new technologies, we decided to check, how strong the IT industry is, as far as the social media communications is concerned. Facebook was the main field of our interest. The research isn’t limited only to product fanpages, like the ones of Nokia, Intel, Sony or Samsung. We also took into consideration popular tech sites  and blogs focused on new technologies, such as Mashable or TechCrunch.

Dark Social Media, shareability You don't see

Dark Social Media, shareability You don’t see.

What is Dark Social?

For the first time, the concept was described in October 2012 in “The Atlantic” magazine by Alexis C. Madrigal, in the article titled “Dark Social: We Have the Whole History of the Web Wrong”. One of the main assumptions of Madrigal’s idea was the fact, that the sharing visible on social media, such as Facebook or Twitter constitutes only a small part of all the “shareability”. Since the number of shares is pretty easy to measure, most of social media managers rely on it and are not aware of the fact that, the so called, dark social means bring most sharing. Dark Social, on the contrary to traditional social media, is difficult to measure and includes means such as e-mail and IM.

According to the data that Madrigal quotes, while 20% of all social referrals come from Facebook, 69% of them take place as a result of the Dark Social. It is known, that social media changes private sharing to public publishing, so that it’s possible to monetize the publications. For our needs, we modified the concept of the Dark Social, by eliminating the results measured on the WWW site itself.

Why Dark Social is NOT the same as Dark Social Media?

While Madrigal in his concept is focused on the results that are countable on the site, we paid our attention to the element in between of Facebook and WWW site. Among others, thanks to Sotrender, every content manager can easily check what type of content is the most popular on the fanpage he runs. Many times we pointed out that photos are one of the most valuable types of content. It can be easily seen on the chart below, describing IT fanpages from the UK.

UK fanpages related to IT

UK fanpages related to IT.

The bars on the plot represent the average Interactivity Index of top 1100 posts, in 2013, on fanpages connected with IT or electronics. Interactivity Index is Sotrender’s collective, weighted rate of all activities, concerning a post that shows how engaging it is.

The information about the fact, that the photos constitute the most engaging type of content is well known. The graph below shows the division of the types of posts published on various fanpages.

Distribution of the posts by types

Distribution of the posts by types.

As you can see, on both charts, the links represent one of the least interactive types of content, which is published seldom or never. We hope, that our report will change it.

As we know, many interactions occur in so called Dark Social. Madrigal considers them as links, that we use to send to each other via e-mails or messengers. But in order to appear there, it’s very probable that they were found directly in social media.

We tried to measure the activities concerning links on Facebook more carefully. Here starts, the so called, Dark Social Media i.e. all the activities connected with particular content, that generally are not visible to moderators on their Facebook Pages.

While the “sherability” of photos is relatively easy to measure, when it comes to links or rather to the content behind them, it becomes far more difficult. Especially, when somebody pastes a link on his private profile, where it can be very likeable and widely commented by friends of the user. Despite of that, Sotrender Research Team tried to step up to the challenge.

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What is Dark Social Media?

Dark social – data you won’t get from Facebook Insights

We calculated the overall interactivity of the top links, including not only the activities concerning top posts, that contain the link, but also every like, comment and share, that the link got through the whole Facebook – even on personal walls of users. The results are shown on the next figure:

The average number of actions concerning a links and posts with links

The average number of actions concerning a links and posts with links.

The chart above shows how great is the bias of statistics provided by Facebook, when it comes to links. You can see, that a top post containing a link, on average generates only 14% of the total number of likes, that the link collects on a Facebook Page, 18% of comments and 4% of shares. What’s more, as barplot below shows, when considering only activities concerning the posts – links connected with games are the most interactive. Links to the content, that concern specific product or brand also seem popular. However, when we look at total numbers, it appears that articles and news are the most interactive type of content.

The comparisione of average interactivity of posts and their links

The comparisione of average interactivity of posts and their links.

When you take into account, how great the surplus of links that lead to article or news was, it seems obvious that communications through such channels will be more effective with higher engagement of users. The communications that directly concern products or brands appear to be as interactive as games and articles, but when we take into account overall interactivity of posted links, products and brands are outrun by the other two categories.

It is worth mentioning that there is a visible difference in the redistribution of the content between products’ and news’ Facebook pages. You will find more about this topic reading the forthcoming posts on Sotrender’s blog.

Top posts vs. top links

We have compared the best posts and the best links published by the UK technology brands and international technology blogs: TechCrunch, Mashable, The Next Web, ReadWrite, Brian Solis, Engadget, Wired, GigaOM, The Verge, SlashGear and Make Use Of. In both cases, the most interactive posts are photos, but the overall interactivity of links is much higher.

The ranking for blogs shows that the best post is an infographic by Mashable concerning… types of naps. The second is a photo from TechCrunch on the occasion of Pi Day. On the other hand, the most interactive link corresponds with a full-size article on Techcrunch, whereas the runner-up is a serious piece from Mashable about the dangers of texting while driving. These examples show that the quality of content is very important for links and has a big influence on their virality. Moreover, the total interactivity of best links can be much higher, than the one of posts – in case of TechCrunch the Interactivity Index of the best link is 4-times higher and for Wired, it is thrice higher than the one of their best post.

Top posts vs. links - Technology Blogs

Top posts vs. links – International Technology Blogs

Let’s have a look at the ranking for UK technology brands. First of all, the lists of authors of the best posts and links differ significantly. As mentioned before, all the best posts are photos and they relate to brands’ products. What is interesting, they are mostly liked, wheras in case of links they are much more likely to be shared by users. Three out of five best links are actually re-shares from different sources, so their interactivity is not so related to the brand itself. In case of the other two, they are competitions with brand’s product prizes. These examples show that brands, on the contrary to blogs, more rarely use links to re-direct users to their original content or they do it with no effect. Therefore, it might be an efficient practice to cooperate with a blog to prepare a meaningful content about the products.

Top posts vs. links - UK Technology Brands

Top posts vs. links – UK Technology Brands


Publish more links

The above-mentioned results suggest that we should reverse the way, we consider the value of links in social media communications of brands. Although photos represent the most popular type of content published by social media moderators, it is worth remembering that links with interesting news can engage users even further than the best photo.

  • It is worth using more links in your communications
  • Links referring to the news are the most engaging
  • Links referring to the product releases are more interesting than those concerning the promotions

What influence does it have on the EdgeRank?

We identified, how many activities connected with posts including links don’t have direct reflection on brands’ fanpages. At the same time, on the example of the analyzed fanpages, we can observe that the “shareability” of the content as a link to a site is higher than the “shareability” of the best posts on the site including the photos. It seems natural that the users share the links to the articles and don’t do it directly from the fanpage. However, it wasn’t yet described in the context of Facebook. Here arises the question, how does it influence the EdgeRank and whether it does it whatsoever? The question, whether it is possible for the fanpage, on which a link was shared by thousands of people, to have higher EdgeRank, remains open.

To sum up:

We have to remember that Dark Social Media is not the same as Dark Social. The notion of Dark Social Media is only the extension of Dark Social. The first one refers to social media; the second one applies to WWW sites. The results of the analysis prepared by Sotrender Research Team are crucial for everyone responsible for the brands’ social media communications. We try to draw your attention to the processes happening in social media, that not always can be clearly visible and measurable.

If you’re interested in more detailed analysis – please contact us! Want to try Sotrender out? Sign up for the 14-day free trial now!

About us:

Sotrender is an analytical tool for optimizing social media activities which is now used by over 180 clients among whom the leading advertising agencies, media houses and corporations from 17 countries.

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