The following is a guest post by Paul Lentz from ShareThis

We've been stuck in an age of oversharing—and Internet users are starting to push back.

Consumers are realizing that they don't always want to share their favorite content with millions of people on Twitter and Facebook. Instead, they want to share with a few friends, family members, or coworkers—or even just one person alone.

That's why private sharing on closed channels like email and SMS text is becoming a very popular trend, which can be endlessly frustrating to marketers.

According to a report from Warc, a marketing research firm, private messaging has already eclipsed open sharing, making up more than 80% of all social activity. And Pew Research found that millennials have embraced private sharing even more than other age groups have, with some “opting out of the online public square" completely.

closed social sharing

closed social sharing

open social sharing

open social sharing

dark social sharing

dark social sharing

What is private sharing?

So, what is private sharing exactly? It's a whole separate form of social sharing, and it's split into two parts:

  • Closed social sharing: Using trackable share buttons to share posts on closed social platforms like WhatsApp, email, and SMS text
  • Dark social sharing: Copying and pasting links to any social platform—open ones (like Facebook and Twitter) orclosed ones (like email and SMS text)
closed private social sharing

Closed vs. Dark Social Sharing

To clarify, dark social sharing is grouped under the category of private sharing because most publishers can't track this data, and studies show that dark social happens most often on closed one-to-one or one-to-few social channels.

As such, private sharing remains a mystery to many marketers and publishers. They simply don't have the tools to track closed and dark social shares. So how do you get a full view of your social marketing metrics?

That's where a new report from ShareThis comes in.

Through our javascript code, which is embedded on millions of publishers' websites, we dug into 11 million shares on open, closed, and dark channels to better understand how users share in public and private.

Here's a glimpse of what we found.

Related Reading: Dark Social: Why 80% of Your Social Results are Missing (and How to Find Them)

Open vs. Private: Politics

The 2016 U.S. Presidential Election showed a major divide between content shared on open vs. private channels. Altogether, 74% of shares about the election happened on open channels, while just 5% of shares happened on closed channels, and dark social (copying and pasting links) drove 20% of shares around this topic.

election public private sharing

Presidential election sharing breakdown

Based on our data, it seems that people were more also likely to share openly about Clinton than they were about Trump:


  • Dark social: 13%
  • Open social: 82%
  • Closed social: 5%



  • Dark social: 7%
  • Open social: 88%
  • Closed social: 5%
political social private sharing

Trump vs Clinton: dark, open, and closed sharing

What this tells you about your audience

Almost 25% of readers may prefer to share political content in private. That is, they'd rather copy and paste the link into a platform and share it with just one or a few people.

What this tells you about your content strategy

You might be missing a quarter of your audience data around political content. In fact, you may think people don't want to share content about politics—especially conservative politics—when they actually do. You just need to provide them with share buttons for private channels like email, SMS text, WhatsApp, and Snapchat. This will help empower them to share on their go-to platforms, and it will help you better track their share activity.

[clickToTweet tweet="Almost 25% of readers may prefer to share political content in private. Provide them the tools to do so! #socialmedia" quote="Almost 25% of readers may prefer to share political content in private. Provide them the tools to do so! #socialmedia"]

Open vs. Private: Days of the Week

Weekdays are dominated by private sharing. This may be because people are at work, where sites like Facebook and Twitter are frowned upon and it's easier to share via a closed channel like email. In fact, our finding shows that most dark shares happen on desktops devices, which are mostly used in an office setting.

In contrast, weekends are all about open sharing. This is when the celebrity, sports, and entertainment content comes out in full force. It's also when people have more time to engage in open conversations with a broader network, such as on Facebook and Twitter. In fact, during the weekend, people tend to share less content on desktop and tablet devices and more on mobile phones as they're out and about.

weekdays private social sharing

Weekdays private sharing

weekend open social sharing

Weekend open sharing

Narrowing down this weekly trend even further, we found that the most popular days and times for each type of social sharing are:

  • Open social: Wednesdays, around 11AM and 9PM
  • Private social:
    • Closed: Wednesdays, 11 AM
    • Dark: Wednesdays, 3PM

The takeaway here is that a great deal of sharing happens on Wednesdays, with most private and open sharing happening around 11AM.

[clickToTweet tweet="Most open social sharing happens on Wednesdays at 11AM! #socialmedia #marketing" quote="Most open social sharing happens on Wednesdays at 11AM! #socialmedia #marketing"]

What this tells you about your audience

On Wednesdays, it appears that people are slowing down from the start of the work week and finding time to catch up on content and share their favorite stories. Dark social sharers, however, become more active starting at 3PM, suggesting that this is the best time to reach people with more personal and private types of content.

What this tells you about your content strategy

If publishers want to maximize weekend sharing, they must find better ways to engage mobile readers. While readers will be doing a lot of sharing on open channels, they will most likely do so on their phones, when they're out of homes and offices.

When it comes to releasing professional and career-related content, which gets more shares during the workweek and on private channels, publishers should remember to offer share buttons for private channels like email and WhatsApp.

A whole new world of private sharing

As private social sharing is taking over, publishers need to adapt to the trend. With the right tools at their fingertips, publishers can track shares across private channels and better understand their audiences.

Still, this data is just the tip of the iceberg. In our new report, we find out how people use dark, closed, and open sharing across different content categories, countries, states, and devices.

Download the whitepaper now to uncover the world of private social sharing.