What is dark social?

Synthesio’s Social Media Usage Series Part 6 (Part 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5) Much of global social media usage occurs on what is called “dark social.” Dark social refers to when people share content through private channels such as instant messaging (IM) and email. Private sharing is harder to track than content shared on public platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Many social media marketers don’t realize how much dark social matters within the greater context of online sharing.

Dark social describes any web traffic that isn’t attributed to a known source, like social networks or Google searches. According to new data, about 69% of social web referrals came from dark social, and 20% came from Facebook.

Despite private sharing, tech companies are still able to structure, archive, and monetize publications on globally used social media.

So what can we learn from this?

Social listening software gives us a great idea of global social media usage information that is available to everyone on the internet. Synthesio’s dashboards can pull in not only social media data, but also review platforms, news media coverage, and more. However, we must also consider the information that isn’t necessarily available for anyone to see.

A large proportion of people online across the globe only post privately on social media, so social listening isn’t always sufficient for painting a full picture of consumers. Therefore, market research firms like Ipsos, Synthesio’s parent company, can provide an extra layer of insight.

Ok, give me the data!

Ipsos’s report on global social media usage and privacy shows us that a large slice of Facebook and Instagram users never or only sometimes post publically on social media. Between 34-56% of content shared by Facebook users takes place on dark social. This proportion is significant enough that it shouldn’t be ignored when considering the overall demographics of particular audiences.

A full quarter of respondents from developed markets stated that they never post anything on social media. The highest percentage by far came from Japan, where 60 percent of respondents never post on social websites. However, this number does not mean that these users aren’t using social media. They are likely sending and receiving content over IM and email, and it’s tricky for social listening to pick it up due to privacy laws.

Synthesio’s partnership with Ipsos strategically allows users to get a more holistic understanding of their target audience. Global social media usage data that indicates a lack of posting turns out to be just as valuable. We can assume from this information that a good portion of those people primarily uses dark social.

What about privacy in the US?


Ipsos’s survey shows that Facebook and Instagram are the most used social channels in the United States. However, people use these platforms the most privately. Only 40% of Facebook and 49% of Instagram users share content publically. In comparison, 68% of Twitter users and 58% of LinkedIn users share their content publically.

How about France?


Despite a very high usage concentration in France on Facebook compared with other platforms, only 32% of users share or sometimes share publically. We can assume from this data that much of French activity takes place in the dark social sphere and needs more robust market research to understand.



Looking at global social media usage in China, we can see that of the countries investigated, Chinese users have the highest rate of public content. A stunning 82% on both Sina Weibo and We Chat share publically with LinkedIn following closely behind at 79%.

Data insights like these are crucial when trying to get a full picture of target audiences. Knowing where users are and aren’t posting and how it differs from country to country allows for more tailored messaging and more business. For more insights like these, check out our 26-page global social media usage report.