When most publishers and marketers think of dark social, they think of email. But should they be paying more attention to SMS?

If data revealed by BuzzFeed, one of the web's most popular publishers, is any indication, the answer is a definitive yes.

As BuzzFeed's Stacy-Marie Ishmael revealed, SMS on some days generates the greatest percentage of shares in BuzzFeed's News app, which is available on iOS and Android, beating out email and popular social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

The frequency with which users are using old-fashioned SMS to share content might surprise some, but BuzzFeed isn't the only publisher that has seen first-hand just how productive SMS can be. 

In NiemanLabs' Predictions for 2015 initiative, Jamie Mottram of Gannett suggested that SMS share buttons would gain in popularity and disclosed that his company's For The Win property had seen SMS share buttons "used 3-4x more than Twitter buttons."

As a result, SMS sharing buttons that started as a trial were made permanent.

How to take advantage of SMS

Given just how important social channels like Twitter and Facebook are for many publishers and marketers, data suggesting that SMS is an even more favored channel for sharing, at least in some cases, should raise eyebrows.

And it should encourage more publishers and marketers to give SMS a try.

Fortunately, taking advantage of SMS typically won't require much effort. Companies with native apps will in most cases find that minimal development is required to add SMS sharing functionality to their apps.

Adding SMS buttons to mobile websites is also possible with minimal development. Links using the sms scheme can be displayed to mobile users, and with a little extra code it's possible to populate the body of the SMS message.

For companies using popular third-party sharing services, enabling SMS sharing is often possible with just a few clicks, as popular services like Shareaholic and ShareThis offer SMS sharing options.

SMS isn't the only overlooked dark social channel

While SMS looks to be the most underutilized dark social channel, it's not the only channel that might be worth experimenting with.

Combined, private messaging apps like Snapchat, WhatsApp and Viber count more than a billion active users and represent channels in which content, including links, are frequently shared.

WhatsApp, for instance, appears on the list of the BuzzFeed News app's most prolific channels for sharing.

Depending on the audiences publishers and marketers target, these apps may be viable channels worth promoting sharing in.

Dark social really isn't dark

Whatever dark social channels companies choose to experiment and invest in, it's important to recognize that traffic can be attributed to these channels even if the sharing itself is not tracked the same way as public sharing.

Buttons encouraging SMS and messaging app sharing should contain tagged links so that referrals are properly attributed to these channels, and users originated from these channels can be segmented.

Patricio Robles

Published 27 October, 2015 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (4)


Peter Cunningham, Product & Marketing at Buyapowa

The basic answer here is let people share on whatever channel they want. You should think of 'social' as all social sharing activities not a network like Facebook. Is it surprising people want to share by SMS? It is often free or almost free (included in the monthly plan), it is immediate when you have a mobile in your hand and it is selective rather than scatter-gun sharing. At Buyapowa we learned that the most important thing for brands and retailers is to get people to share and track that sharing rather than try and force sharing into pre-selected channels.

over 2 years ago


Eric Bryant, Co-Founder at Text Engine

SMS is probably the most underrated, cinderella technology on the planet. It is being used by social businesses all over the world for things such as helping pregnant mothers get necessary medical advice, to helping farmers with weather forecasts, to bringing much-needed information and news to people in developing nations. We developed an SMS search engine that works on 5 continents and allows people with low-tech phones that don't have web browsers search Google, Wikipedia, CNN and more. Learn more: http://textengine.info

over 2 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and Author at Fresh Relevance

Heck of a long tail. I never heard of half of those! I think the story here is that, given the chance, people use a very wide variety of social channels.

over 2 years ago

Craig R Morton

Craig R Morton, Senior PHP Analyst/Programmer at Reiss

Unrated? Not at all. The chances of me purchasing from a website following a cold SMS is low. SMS marketing messages are, nine times out of ten, spam in nature. So it's a 'no' from me.

over 2 years ago

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