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      HubSpot Shines a Light on Dark Social

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      HubSpot Shines A Light On Dark Social

      Dark social is a growing source of private content sharing, and it's proving difficult to track! In this article, we uncover the invisible and show you how HubSpot can help you use dark social to fuel growth.

      If you’ve never come across the term before, hearing talk of “dark social” might make you think something sinister and sneaky (or even illegal!) is going on.

      Dark social is nothing like that. In fact, you’ve probably taken part in dark social activities more than once or twice yourself. Ask yourself - have you ever DM’d a link from a post you found on your social feed to a friend? Sent a text in your group chat with a link you landed on from email marketing?

      That, in a nutshell, is dark social.

      The activity in question is simply termed "dark" because your regular, run-of-the-mill web analytics tools and attribution software can't properly track what you’re doing because the referral sources for private content shares from social posts or ads are often unknown and therefore won’t be sorted into the correct analytics buckets.

      So for marketers and business leaders, the question is: does dark social mess with your data? Yep, it sure does! So how can you un-skew your data and ensure your attribution captures the dark social activity of off-platform shares? Dive in below and let’s find out.

      A 2019 study revealed that 63% of people prefer to share content and recommendations on dark private messaging apps.

      Source: The Drum


      Defining Dark Social & Why It Matters

      A term first coined by journalist Alexis Madrigal in his 2012 The Atlantic article, dark social is the “untrackable” stuff being shared online that’s a challenge to measure because of one reason: it’s shared in private or what’s termed as “dark” channels.

      It's the little emails and messages privately flying across your team Slack channels, quick Tweets from conference hallways, and the helpful how-to blogs, podcasts, YouTube videos, and restaurant recommendations that we share via chat or text with friends and family.

      Shared in private channels, your content is reaching an “invisible” audience that you might not even know exists!

      In fact, according to a recent study conducted by The Drum, 87% of content shares are made directly through copy-and-pasting the link URL and sharing that link directly on dark social channels.

      Let’s follow a sample of your normal social-to-website traffic scenario:

      You post an article on social media


      User finds it & clicks the link to the article.


      User arrives at your site.


      In comparison, here’s a sample of a dark social traffic journey:


      Unknown source


      Unknown source


      User arrives at your site.


      Another common dark social journey example:


      User A shares a link with users B & C via email.  This link contains UTM parameters that designate that users who click the link are coming from Twitter.


      Users B & C click on the link in the email.


      Users B & C are bucketed into the Twitter source category even if they actually didn’t come from Twitter.


      When you look at the above user paths, it’s tempting to just throw caution to the wind and simply be happy that your customers found you. Who cares where they came from? They came, so life is good!

      That’s true to an extent. But if you’re focused on squeezing every last drop out of your marketing dollars, you know that your analytics have to be on point. Unknown sources or inaccurate variables caused by dark social traffic presents issues that can cause you to miss out on great opportunities. Here’s why:

      • Content engagement is siloed and not distributed to your intended audiences because the content is “trapped” in the private conversations of already-connected people.
      • Since private conversations are…well..private, this means you’re left out of the conversation and you won’t get an accurate picture of exactly how your message is being dissected and interpreted by your audience.
      • Your content offers may have unwittingly opened up an entirely new market segment or referral source without even you knowing it (and you must know it!)

      If you’re a sensible marketer or business owner who wants to make the most of the data coming in from the content you put out on your social channels, dark social matters because:

      • The data gleaned from dark social traffic can reveal the true intent and interests of your target market + which content pieces they engage in the most, helping you build better intent data and create content that your audience actually wants to see/engage with.
      • It helps you figure out which campaigns or content to focus on. After all, creating content to foster engagement is at the core of any inbound digital marketing strategy. 
      • Tracking it accurately helps fine-tune your website analytics and provides you with accurate attribution reports. This, of course, helps you measure the efficacy of your marketing efforts.

      But, as you can see from the “unknowns” above, dark social is all fun and games until you actually have to track and analyze it.

      So how do you measure something that’s literally invisible to the marketer’s naked eye? The solution is not as complicated as it sounds.

      By equipping yourself with the right knowledge and tools to help you track and identify your dark social traffic, you can stay one step ahead and serve your audience with valuable content.

      HubSpot Is The Light At The End Of The Dark Social Tracking Tunnel

      HubSpot Is The Light At The End Of The Dark Social Tracking Tunnel

      While there are certainly tools to help you make sense of dark social, if you’re already using HubSpot, why not use the free resources already at your fingertips and the platform’s built-in capabilities to help you?

       1. Dive into your direct traffic data to identify dark social traffic.

      Resident Hubwiz and Manager of Content Marketing Strategy for HubSpot's Marketing Blog and The Growth Show podcast Ginny Mineo shares a ton of dark social wisdom in her recent blog.

      One of her main points is this: dark social traffic is normally embedded within the direct traffic data you already have.

      For the uninitiated, direct traffic is the amount of web traffic you receive from users who visit your website through a URL directly from their browsers. Direct traffic does not have an associated referrer and is defined as the traffic that has arrived on your website without any additional information, source, or data about how it was found.

      How do you pick out those links?

      Easy. It’s those long, complicated URLs that no human being could possibly memorize; e.g. https://blog.digitalreachos.com/meeting-your-match-how-to-choose-a-hubspot-co-seller-blog 



      The longer link was generated by sending the original link to a recipient via Facebook Chats.

      2. Manually remove incorrect UTM parameters from URLs you share on dark social channels.

      Manually remove the UTM parameters for clearer traffic reporting results.

      As an example, a URL with UTM parameters would look like this, and the highlighted portion is what you’ll need to manually omit:


      3. Create shortened, tracked links with HubSpot’s Tracking URL Builder.

      Making shortened, trackable URLs will help you understand who's clicking and which links they're clicking on throughout the entire customer journey.



      With this tool, you can create URLs for each specific dark social channel that you’re sharing the link on.

      Here are sample URLs:

      URL 1: LinkedIn - http://dr.ly/B06hP7Q1

      URL 2: Twitter - http://dr.ly/B06hP7Q2

      Should a user share URL 1 in a mobile messaging app or URL 2 on a community page or forum, you’ll know exactly the URL’s source because HubSpot’s intuitive platform can recognize it.

      Want to explore more ways HubSpot can help with link sharing and analysis?💡

       Get in touch and make an appointment with one of our expert HubSpot consultants.


      If you haven’t tried HubSpot’s tracking URL builder before, here’s some basic info to get you started:

      • The HubSpot Tracking URL Builder applies to the following Hubs - Marketing Hub Professional, Enterprise, CMS Hub Professional, Enterprise Legacy Marketing Hub Basic.

      • You can access this tool on the left-hand side of 'Sources', accessed via 'Reports' in your HubSpot portal nav bar.
      • Check out this HubSpot Knowledge Base article for a complete step-by-step guide to creating HubSpot Tracking URLs.

      Tips & Strategies To Stay On Top Of Dark Social

      Tips & Strategies To Stay On Top Of Dark Social

      If dark social is the wave your customers are on, then might as well catch the swell and ride it. This way, you’ll never be left out of the conversations your customers are having about you.

      Here are some strategies to try:

      • Be where your customers are — dark channels.

      Communities, forums, social media groups, and organic social: this is where you’ll find your regular John and Jane talking about how they really feel about what you’re offering. Leverage these opportunities by meeting them in their world!

      Be active and engaged in community forums, respond to comments on social media, and most importantly:

      ✔️ create content that resonates with your audience and adds value to their lives

      ✔️ encourage your team to be helpful, approachable, and accommodating at all times

      • Minimize gated content where possible, but always ensure that you’re asking your customers where they heard about you.

      It's true that gating access to content that you can give away for free (like free trials or demos) can sometimes turn off potential customers. If you choose not to gate, it's still important to reach out and ask where your prospects heard about you.

      Once you collect this data, you can start getting a clearer picture of your dark social traffic and include it in your overall reporting.

      • Add a dark social segment in your Google Analytics.

      If you’re not using Google Analytics (GA) to track your ROMI and understand your customers, then it’s high time you should. Need some help in that department? Get in touch! 🙋🏽

      If you already have GA but didn’t know you can track dark social with it, here’s a handy article from Business2Community to help you.

      • Utilize a sticky social share bar.

      Just like a sticky note that follows you as you go about your tasks, a sticky social share bar is a great way to encourage your website visitors to share your content on social media as it appears wherever they are on your website.

      You can build one on HubSpot. Here are a few resources to help you:



      Illuminate Your Dark Social Traffic With Digital Reach

      Illuminate Your Dark Social Traffic With Digital Reach Online Solutions 🔦✨

      The future of digital marketing is one in which marketers are aware of their entire audience and the entire path users take to complete a purchase.

      As HubSpot Diamond Partners 💎, we have the tools and know-how to help you leverage HubSpot and use it to reveal data about your invisible audiences.

      Don’t get lost in the dark. Light up your marketing with expert HubSpotters by your side.

      Reach out today:

      LET'S TALK!


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