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Social media plays a big part in the online world now. But how much? 

This post is going to cover a number of methods for tracking social media activity using Google Analytics. Tracking social interaction in and out of your website and seeing how social media users behave on your site is going to give you some of the best insights you could hope for. 

Other tools are available for tracking social activity, but none really dig deep into your website. Now considering your website is going to be where you make your money, I'm going to focus on that.

The areas I'm going to cover here are:

  • Tracking social buttons on your website..
  • Tracking your social media content off your website
  • Analysing traffic from social media sources.
  • A few extra ideas.

Tracking clicks on social buttons

In the new version of Analytics, Google has introduced a Social report to automatically track clicks on the +1 buttons located on your site pages.

It can also be used to track non-Google social interactions, such as Facebook Likes and Twitter follows and tweets, though these require extra code.

To track clicks of the Google +1 button on your site, all you need to have is the asynch version of the tracking code. This is the one with the word 'push' that goes in the <head> rather than the <body>.

As it's mildly complex, here's a helpful post on implementing social tracking for Facebook and Twitter buttons. This includes the JavaScript and extra code required to get Google Analytics to pull in the data.

To see the data for these three actions, navigate to Visitors > Social > Engagement, Action and Pages.

Socially engaged statistics in Google Analytics

What we can see from the above statistics is that those who click a social button on the website (i.e. Socially engaged users) spend a lot longer on site, visit more pages and are often returning visitors. 

You can also compare goal and e-commerce statistics of socially and not socially engaged users. This is to see if socially engaged users convert differently to those who are not socially engaged.

Social engagement conversion rate

Within the Action report you can see which social interaction happened and how many times it happened, for example:

Types of social interactions in Google Analytics

You can also break down the site usage by the buttons clicked so that you can compare pages per visit, time on site, percentage of new visits and conversions across the different social interactions.

This is to see whether people who +1 something are more valuable to you than users who tweet the content:

Social action engagement in Google Analytics

Additionally, you can see which pages have seen which actions, all in one table. This is handy as many of the buttons can report the statistics visually on the page, however through using this report you can see all the pages' social clicks in one place:

Social action by page in Google Analytics

This social area within Google Analytics can now become a core part of analysing the social interaction on your site. It can also help you make decisions about keeping or losing the social buttons and encourage you to address the issue if they are not working, as well as helping you experiment with where to position them.

Tracking your social media links

Sometimes a link posted on Facebook or Twitter will result in a lead, but how would you know unless you tracked it? 

If you are posting links on social media platforms it is beneficial to build custom URLs with tracking code in, which is then easily hidden when you use a URL shortener.

The simplest way to do this is to use Google's URL tool builder, plug in your URL, add in what you would like to see your data under in Google Analytics and generate your URL. 

I'd recommend naming all your links clearly and deciding on your full naming strategy before you begin to ensure all mediums and sources are grouped how you want them to be reported in Analytics. The Campaign variable is useful for naming specific social campaigns you might be running or highlighting what you are trying to promote.

If you post to Twitter a lot or you want to make things easier for yourself or your team in the long run, I highly recommend using a spreadsheet and the concatenate function to build custom tracking URLs for you. This will ensure everything is consistent in the long run. 

Also, when you then shorten your tracking URL with a shortening service, try to make sure you use a service that gives you click statistics, such as bit.ly, just for that extra bit of data. 

Charlie Southwell has put together a very useful spreadsheet that you can download here and use to build your tracking URLs. It can even create shortened URLs for you.

Analysing the data - Advanced Segments

Advanced Segments are essential for breaking down information in Google Analytics and showing you specific data on its own, or alongside another segment that you want to analyse. By setting up a segment for social media traffic you can see how visitors from social media interact with your site and compare this to users who do not come from social media. 

I also like to pick the top referring sites and track these individually so that I can compare Twitter versus Facebook and see the differences between my core social sources. This often leads to an interesting analysis and can help you assess the value of each platform to help you avoid bulking your investment together and not understanding the return from each aspect, which can vary dramatically. 

Another way to segment the data would be to group the social media sources that you actively invest time or money into and compare their statistics to social sources that you don't actively go after. This could identify opportunities to invest in profitable areas and reign in spend and time where it can't be justified.

Combining your segments with an analysis of custom variables that specify the demographics of the users will really show you the difference between users who don't come to your site via social media and those who do. 

To set up an advanced segment click the Advanced Segments link, then in the bottom right of this section click + New Custom Segment. Here you specify the details of the segment:

To include all social media sites in one segment use the following handy string, as built by Sitevisibility for the Source regex (second box pictured above):

facebook\.com|twitter\.com|linkedin|del\.icio\.us|delicious\.com|technorati|digg\.com|

hootsuite|stumbleupon|netvibes|bloglines|faves\.com|aim\.com|friendfeed|blinklist|

fark|furl|newsgator|prweb|msplinks|myspace|bit\.ly|tr\.im|cli\.gs|zi\.ma|poprl|tinyurl|ow\.ly|reddit

And as well as setting up include segments, I would also create a segment to exclude traffic from social sources to help you analyse what type of users do not come from social sources. 

Segments are good and bad in the way that if a user has been to your site twice, once from and once not from social media, all of these user visits would count within the include social media segment.

Analysing the data - Custom Reports

Once you know what you want to keep an eye on and which metrics mean the most to you, I would recommend setting up a custom report to display this data cleanly in one place. Additionally, you could set up a custom dashboard to keep an eye on the data on a regular basis and of course link from this data to the custom report you've created where possible.

Start by creating a custom report, choose metrics such as visits, bounce rate, conversions and group these in a methodical way. Set up a filter on the report to include sources matching the regular expression above and once you're happy with the report you can add it to a dashboard using the link at the top of the report.

I've created a custom report for you, just make sure you're signed into Google Analytics and you should be able to save and access this nice and easily.

Analysing the data - Custom Dashboards

In addition to a custom report you can also set up a custom dahsboard for the social data you want to monitor regularly. This will show you all your social statistics in one place, including tables, graphs and more importantly it will be exactly what you choose it to be. 

To set up a custom dashboard follow these steps:

  • Navigate to your profile.
  • Click the Home button.
  • Under dashboards click + New Dashboard.
  • Choose a blank dashboard.
  • Add widgets with the content you want to track.
  • Add a filter to each widget to include Source matching regular expression with the social group above.

Social Media custom dashboard in Google Analytics

The data that means the most to you can now be displayed all in one page, you can also set up each widget to link to a custom report for a complete view of the data. 

Analysing the data - Intelligence Alerts

One more way to track your social progress without much effort is to set up Intelligence Events (previously called Intelligence Alerts) to email you when things change. 

Things you might use Intelligence Events for:

  • Increase or decrease in traffic from a certain social source.
  • Increase or decrease in all social traffic.

Intelligence events are monitored from the area within the Home tab, but have to be set up within the profile settings area, like so:

  • Click the cog to access profile settings.
  • Click Custom Alerts.
  • Click Create new alert.
  • Name it and choose your profiles to show it in.
  • Choose Day.
  • Check the Send me an email box.
  • Select any other email addresses to send it to.
  • Set the Alert Conditions.
    • This applies to: 
      • Select the custom segment you've set up for social media.
    • Alert me when: 
      • Visits > % increases by more than > 25 > Same day in the previous.

Summary

As this was rather long with a lot of different methods, here's a summary of all the tips I included above:

  • Track clicks on social buttons on your site.
  • Analyse social engagement within your site.
  • Use campaign tagging for URLs you share.
  • Use a URL shortener for up to date click statistics.

Analyse data in Google Analytics using:

  • Advanced segments.
  • Custom Reports.
  • Custom Dashboard.
  • Intelligence Alerts.
  • Real Time Reporting

Other social media tracking ideas

In addition to the monitoring you can do within the Google Analytics environment, I would encourage you to think outside the box and see how else you can use the information available to improve your social media investments.

How about:

  • Set up Google Alerts for the content you promote socially.
  • Watch the progress of Twitter activity by using search columns in Tweetdeck.
  • Use top referring keywords in Google Analytics to search for new followers on Twitter.
  • Install a Firefox plugin to see social media metrics in your content report.
  • Use a social monitoring tool such as BrandsEye for constant visibility.
Anna Lewis

Published 8 November, 2011 by Anna Lewis

Anna Lewis is a Digital Marketing Executive at Koozai and a contributor to Econsultancy. Follow Anna on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

6 more posts from this author

Comments (11)

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Peter O'Neill

Peter O'Neill, Founder & Lead Consultant at L3 Analytics

Hi Anna,

Some nice approaches there to understanding the performance of social media. I wrote a post recently on tracking the different types of social media in Google Analytics - http://bit.ly/usZeeU. It contains approaches for:

* adding campaign parameters to the links you post (I provide another spreadsheet but idea is similar)
* adding campaign parameters to the links generated by visitors clicking on sharing buttons (in additional to the GA social event tracking)
* grouping visitors from untagged social media links using a profile filter to rename the medium, instead of using advanced segments.

I do need to update as have since realised there is a 4th group of social media traffic, campaigns that appear on social media networks e.g. display ads on Facebook. Anyway, hope these recommendations help ppl to track social media in GA.

Cheers

Peter

PS The spreadsheet built by Charlie needs to be modified for URLs that already contain query parameters.

almost 5 years ago

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Innes

I always find this of great interest as a means to see how many people go from the likes of twitter and facebook to my website. It gives me a good idea as to whether what I am saying is effective and whether I have the right followers on the two mediums.

almost 5 years ago

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Tim Leighton-Boyce, Analyst at CxFocus

Really good stuff. Thank you. I have one extra suggestion: have a good look at GA Multi-channel Funnels Reports.

Multi-channel Funnels reporting is very useful in the context of social, for two reasons:

1. You can check on the involvement of social in conversions which ultimately took place via another channel (of any kind -- tip is to set up an engagement goal of some kind if you don't just want to see something like ecommerce transactions)

2. Click the 'edit' button on the default 'social' channel grouping in order to see GA's built-in monster list of social sources. You can use this to expand the regex which is described in the article. But you probably won't want to add all of them. The list is a monster!

Tim

almost 5 years ago

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Tim Leighton-Boyce, Analyst at CxFocus

One other point..

GA is great for tracking social links which you post yourself, as described above.

But, like most web analytics systems, it's not so hot for tracking organic (user-generated) links posted by other people which have been clicked in a mobile or desktop app.

These un-tagged links may well end up being reported as 'direct' instead.

So you need to treat the visits which are reported as referrals from the likes of Facebook and Twitter as the tip of an iceberg. It's a sample. Social is probably more valuable than you think.

I can bore for Britain on the subject:

http://www.cxfocus.com/index.php/google-analytics-tips/social-marketing-big-visitors/

almost 5 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Charlie Southwell

Hi Peter,

You make some really good points.

I would love to discuss how to make it usable for URLs that already have query paramaters. Not URLs that I have had a need to support before now.

I'd love to chat and improve, I'm @charlesaidthat on Twitter. Or charlie at screendrip dot com

Best,
Charlie

almost 5 years ago

Anna Lewis

Anna Lewis, Google Analytics Analyst at Koozai

Thanks for the comments and ideas, I knew I would have missed some methods - there are so many ways to track social activity!

On the topic of Multi Channel Funnels (thanks for the reminder Tim) I explained how you can group social traffic together to work out it's value in my presentation at ThinkVisibility 6, the blog post and presentation are here:

http://www.koozai.com/blog/analytics/making-money-with-multi-channel-funnels-from-think-visbility/

I also think Avinash Kaushik's recent post on measuring the conversation, amplification, applause and value of social media is well worth a mention, for anyone wanting to delve deeper in to other values and measurement of social activity:

http://www.kaushik.net/avinash/best-social-media-metrics-conversation-amplification-applause-economic-value/
There's a handy excel dashboard template at the bottom to measure it all in too.

almost 5 years ago

Steve Harvey-Franklin

Steve Harvey-Franklin, Director at AttercopiaSmall Business

Thanks

Some useful pointers in tracking Social Media, I think it can be quite interesting overlaying different data as well eg tracking brand mentions with social media activity and sales / leads generated from social media sources. I think very often direct traffic and brand awareness increase off the back of social media.

Advanced segments also give a great insight, we're finding that visitors from Social Media including readers of the Blog) are generally spending twice as long onsite, visiting twice as many pages and are 3-4 times more likely to achieve a goal e.g. checkout, enquire, contact or download. Which should not be such a surprise (warmed up visitors interested versus non warmed up visitors, but all the same it demonstrates the value of social media in being there at the point of interest rather than at the point of sale which has often been the domain of SEO and PPC

almost 5 years ago

Brian Clifton

Brian Clifton, Author, CEO & Web Metrics Strategist at Advanced Web Metrics

@Tim - the social regex list in GA's muti-channel funnels is a monster but it is very generic. I would certainly advise users to modify this to include relavent niche forums and blogs.

For example, links form econsultancy.com to my site are an important social engagement for me that is not in GA's list (Ashley?).

almost 5 years ago

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about 4 years ago

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about 4 years ago

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almost 4 years ago

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