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Is dark social helping or hindering your referrals?

Dark social is the online equivalent of traditional word-of-mouth communicating. Word of mouth is an essential component in legal referrals. Can you really understand how clients come to you or who influences them?

Referral conversations take place on dark social

Dark social sounds like something out of the movies or the dark and sinister network of the internet, but it is not. It is simply the social sharing of content that occurs outside of what can be measured by web analytics programs. It is a term defined by Alexis Madrigal of The Atlantic in 2012.

I best understood dark social from Keith Quesenberry’s recent article. He explains it as “web traffic with no referral data because the link was shared through unmeasurable social media.”

Do you know that research indicates that 84 per cent of referrals globally come from dark social, up from 69 per cent just a year-and-a-half earlier? Your references and potential clients are using email, instant messaging, secure browsing and texts to compare notes and chat about you on social sharing platforms and apps that are not public and are almost impossible to track.

What is more frightening is that people in older age brackets tend to use only dark social as opposed to younger age groups who have grown up sharing publicly. Further, in industries such as legal, dark sharing is also more prevalent.

If you thought that marketing and business development was getting more technical and complex already, this clearly adds another level of complexity — but can you do anything about it?

Embracing dark social

While most lawyers are starting to care about and curate their online presence more as well as starting to demand web analytics and dashboards, be aware that your tracking of online traffic is not complete. Numbers of page hits and views is revealing only a fraction of the picture.

Become acquainted with how your biography and publications are being posted. Since dark social is about sharing information, the ability to track this sharing boils down to helping people share easily so that you might have a better chance of tracking the “shares.”

Dark social tips

There are tricks that your marketing technologist, agency or IT resource can help you with that you can also find online. Having prominent “share” buttons is a must, along with helping people share by email easily.

Cutting down the length of URLs is another helpful way to track shares. If the URL for content is too long and complex, it forces people to copy and paste the long URL into a search engine and make it seem like a direct search instead of a referral from another source. A shorter URL can be embedded in the referrers’ content and is, therefore, attributable to its source.

Another method to reveal “dark” referrals is to create incentive programs. Many firms have existing referral programs that reward referrals that turn into business. These referral gifts are usually given in a reactive style to organic referrals; i.e., referrals that just happened to happen without a formal program structure. For example, firms will send thank you cards, bottles of wine, gift baskets, etc. when they find out from their client that they were referred by someone else. Many firms are creating proactive and formal referral programs that track their referral sources along with the quality and quantity of business referred and reward according to scale of business.

Dark social tools are also starting to crop up that add trackable code to copy that people copy off of your website.

And, of course, I wouldn’t be me without also reminding you that however technologically complex the world becomes, paying attention to the quality and client-focused relevance of your profile and content is of utmost importance. No one is going to share poor quality and irrelevant content and won’t refer you to others if you and your content don’t reflect client relevancy!

Come out of the dark and help your referral sources share you more efficiently and effectively.


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