First, on the operational side, if you think optimizing your Facebook page and Tweets is “optimizing for social,” you’re only halfway (or maybe 30 percent) correct. The only real way to optimize for social spread is in the nature of the content itself. There’s no way to game email or people’s instant messages. There’s no power users you can contact. There’s no algorithms to understand. This is pure social, uncut.

Alexis Madrigal, The Atlantic

The Web was Social Before the Social Web

Madrigal recently wrote about what he calls dark social. In short: dark social is the social sharing that happens outside of sites like Facebook and Twitter and is therefore hard to measure; for example, sharing links via e-mail and instant messaging. According to data by Chartbeat, across a number of media sites, almost 69% of social referrals were dark, whereas Facebook referrals came in at 20%.

One of the biggest implications he points out is this: 

If what I’m saying is true, then the tradeoffs we make on social networks is not the one that we’re told we’re making. We’re not giving our personal data in exchange for the ability to share links with friends. Massive numbers of people — a larger set than exists on any social network — already do that outside the social networks. Rather, we’re exchanging our personal data in exchange for the ability to publish and archive a record of our sharing. That may be a transaction you want to make, but it might not be the one you’ve been told you made. 

Yesterday, Matt Buchanan wrote something of a reaction to Madrigal’s piece, in which he breaks down just what the components of dark social are, how they might be more accurately defined, and the fact that they’re slowly coming out into the light.

Another point: It indicates how non-homogenous “dark social” likely is. There’s the part of it that’s older and non-urban, coming from non-mobile devices, and then there’s the part coming from younger users, which is more highly mobile. To oversimplify: old people on desktops reading emails, young people on phones.

FJP: Both are interesting reads if you’d like to think about the bigger picture of how you share links, why, and what social sites are really doing for you.

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