Facebook isn’t just the world’s biggest social network, as it is also a much bigger traffic referrer than marketers previously inferred. Bitly, the world’s leading URL shortening service, recently partnered with Facebook to clean up web traffic that was previously being reported as originating from undefined sources (a phenomenon known as “dark social”).
The term “dark social” was originally coined by a senior editor at The Atlantic to refer to content that was being shared socially but could not be monitored by web analytics programs. According to Bitly, dark social left “marketers and social media managers worried [that] the data they [had] been relying on [was] wrong.”
Facebook is the King of Social Referrals
Once Bitly was able to clean up its analytics with the help of Facebook, both companies were able to establish that a large portion of dark social traffic was actually coming from Facebook’s mobile app. Bitly recently released an infographic that makes it pretty clear that Facebook’s share of social referral clicks from mobile devices was “bigger than you thought”.
Facebook’s share of clicks from mobile devices increased 30.2% in Q4 2014. The social network’s overall share of referral traffic increased 8.6% in Q4 2014, though desktop was down 19.8% and tablet 0.3% in the same quarter. [See Figure 1]
Bitly is in a unique position of authority when it comes to assessing referral traffic in the Internet. Every month, the company encodes “more than 600M links and processes 8B clicks on those links. With all this activity, [they] have incredible insight into behavior on the web.”
While Facebook’s power to drive referral traffic, particularly on mobile, is evident from Bitly’s latest infographic, the cleaning up of dark social also exposed Twitter’s evident lack of growth in social referrals. “Twitter is flat,” the Bitly infographic declares quite bluntly. While social referrals from Twitter dropped slightly from Q3 to Q4 in 2014 across all devices, traffic from desktop and tablet took the toughest hit.
Twitter’s share of clicks from mobile devices decreased 2.5% in Q4 2014. Meanwhile, Twitter’s share of overall referral traffic decreased by 4.9%; with desktop decreasing by an astonishing 10.1% and tablet by 10.5%.
Mobile Drives the Most Traffic for Facebook and Twitter
Mobile drove 53% of referral traffic for Facebook, Twitter, and Bitly in Q4 2014 (a significant increase from 37% of traffic in Q4 2013). In addition, overall growth in mobile-based social referrals was 100.5% from 2013 to 2014.
Despite Facebook’s lead, Twitter remains an important channel for marketers, as Twitter excels at social referrals for sports events and breaking news. Bitly hopes that the correct attribution of referral traffic will help their customers make “[more] effective choices in optimizing their strategies.”
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