What You Need to Know About Dark Social and Attribution

What You Need to Know About Dark Social and Attribution Lucy Hitz Blogger Extraordinaire Simply Measured

We just had a pretty great podcast recording session — maybe our best ever — with Brewster Stanislaw, Head of Attribution here at Simply Measured. We even aired the recording-in-progress on Periscope, which is something you can expect to see more often. Thanks for tuning in!


But that wasn’t the most exciting part. The most exciting part was learning the nuts and bolts of dark social, why attribution matters, and what the connection between social and $$ will look like in the (very near) future. Here are a few of the major takeaways if you’re short on time.

1. What Is Dark Social?

Definition: The traffic and conversions that happened on your website when someone arrived via social share, but did not pass a “referrer.”

But what’s a “referrer”? Say you’re on SimplyMeasured.com, and you click over to SocialMedia.org. SocialMedia.org’s web analytics will show “SimplyMeasured.com” as the “referrer.” They’ll attribute that traffic to Simply Measured.

The Social Marketer’s Guide to Social Media ROI

But in many social scenarios, a “referrer” is not passed. For example, Facebook’s mobile app won’t pass a “referrer,” so that traffic will show up as “direct” or “no referrer.” Other types of earned media, like texting your friend a link, emailing, or sending a link via slack, don’t pass a referrer, so they show up in your web analytics as “direct traffic,” and are thus unattributed.

2. Why Is This a Problem for Social Marketers Specifically?

It’s important to be able to prove your value to your business: reaching an audience, driving awareness, and driving engagement. But it’s another thing altogether to be able to show that you’re driving traffic to your web properties. This is vital if:

  • You want to prove you’re driving conversions to the rest of the marketing team
  • You’re part of an ecommerce brand that wants the social team to be driving sales
  • You want to show how you’re affecting the entire customer journey, from awareness to advocacy — not just the top of the funnel
  • You want to be able to measure, so you can optimize

3. Which Attribution Model Should I Use?

Last Click vs. First Click: Last Click attribution models give credit for a purchase and/or web conversion to the last link clicked by a user before he or she buys and/or converts. First Click attribution models give credit for a purchase and/or web conversion to the first click in the process (discovery) which ended in the purchase and/or web conversion.

First Click attribution models give social a lot more credit, but you need to play around with different models to find out what is right for your brand.

For instance, we advocate a Last Social Touch attribution model for marketers. This let’s you ask (and answer): What was that last social touchpoint? That can happen very late in the customer journey, or very early, and being able to attribute back to that helps paint the biggest picture of social’s impact.

Other models to investigate include:

  • The Starter-Closer-Player Model (or Position Model):  40% of credit goes to first touch and last touch each, and the rest of the percentage is split evenly between the touch points in between
  • The Time Decay Model: Credit is generated by length of time from conversions. Less time = more credit
  • Linear Model: Each touchpoint gets an even percentage of credit
A more detailed post on attribution models is coming to the Simply Measured blog soon, care of Brewster. Stay tuned.

Taking Social Attribution Seriously

Social is getting more and more sophisticated by the day. The savviest brands are done focusing solely on one metric, like engagement or follower growth, and are dedicating resources and thinking power to making the connection between social and revenue.

Need more help with forward-thinking 2016 planning? Check out our 2016 Social + Digital Marketing Predictions today.


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2016 Social + Digital Marketing Predictions


Lucy Hitz

I’m the Content Marketing Manager here at Simply Measured. I manage our blog, produce longform content, head our co-marketing initiatives, and host the Simply Social podcast, among a few other things. I love yoga, The X-Files, peaty scotch, hiking, and poetry. If I were a social media channel, I’d want to be Instagram, but I think I’m Twitter.