‘Dark Social’. If it sounds mysterious, that’s because it is. Well, at least if you’re an online marketer.

Dark Social is a term that was coined by Alexis C. Madrigal to define content sharing activities that cannot be accurately measured by Web analytics tool as they occur beyond what can be recorded. URLs which are shared from one user to another via email and instant messaging programs like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp cannot be recorded in the same way that clicks on your website, a Facebook post or Google ad can. In analytics programs, these are grouped under the non-too-specific umbrella of ‘Direct Traffic’.

In the digital marketing age, where it’s become so easy to monitor, measure and report on responses to every single thing put out there by a brand, Dark Social could be seen as a threat to more traditional methods, as individuals share content, off the radar and off the record.

But as brands adapt, many are finding innovative ways to turn Dark Social into a bright, shiny new avenue of marketing and using this very personal form of communication to great effect.

How Brands Can Use Dark Social to Their Advantage

According to Marketing Week, one brand that has embraced the benefits of Dark Social is Adidas. The global sports brand is ‘hoping to change the face of influencer marketing with the launch of Tango Squads, communities of hyper-connected football obsessives operating on direct messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Line.’

According to Florence Alt, Senior Director of Global Brand Communications at Adidas, 70% of brand referrals occur on dark social. It’s not clear how they are able to glean these figures whilst measuring the immeasurable, but there is an obvious confidence in this method of outreach that big brands are eager to invest in.

The idea, in a nutshell, is that instead of using a social media page to post a general message to thousands, more can be achieved by addressing one person directly who might pass on the message to 5 of their friends, each of whom will do the same – and so on, and so on.

In less fancy terms, this is word-of-mouth marketing for the 21st century; it’s not easy to measure but it is (and always has been) extremely valuable to brands.