Integrated Marketing Success Factors 2020 - download yours for FREE right now...

Using Google Analytics to track social media marketing

An introduction to the 6 new Social Reports in Google Analytics

In my previous post I wrote about the increasing importance of social media with SEO. In this follow-up I'll show how Google Analytics can be used to assess how effective you are in generating social signals through an engaged audience.

Using Google Analytics social reports to measure impact

Google Analytics introduced a new Social report suite in March 2012. This makes it much easier to evaluate the contribution of traffic from social media domains and sharing of content from your site on social networks.

When it was first announced it was known as "Social Analytics" (see Dave Chaffey's introduction to 10 features) and had its own menu option. Now the Social report is integrated in the Traffic Sources report, available by selecting "Social". There are 6 reports available which I will explain. If you haven't used them, I recommend it, it certainly makes understanding the contribution of social media easier than previously when you needed to set up Advanced segments to show the contribution of social media.

Using campaign tracking for social media

Before I look at each of the reports, a reminder that, by default, Google will only be able to show you direct visits from the social networks such as clicking on a link to a site within the network. This means that if someone visits via a desktop or mobile app such as Hootsuite or Tweetdeck this contribution won't be recorded - it will be a direct visit. However, if you use campaign-tracking codes, you can more accurately evaluate the impact of individual links. Tim Leighton Boyce discussed these inaccuracies in this post How to track visits from social media.  The other advantage is that you can segment different types of link to evaluate what type of content works best on each social network.

Google Analytics provides a free URL builder you can use to add these campaign-tracking codes. Or if you speak to Dan Barker, Smart Insights Analytics expert, he can whip up a wonderful automated online tool using Google Docs and the API.

Now, onto the 6 new social reports.

1. Overview

This gives a snapshot of the top-level data for your website. Use it to keep an eye on the contribution of social traffic to:

  • Visits
  • Social referrals
  • Conversions
  • Assisted conversions
  • Social networks sending traffic

Google Analytics Social Reports

You can also create a Social Media Dashboard in GA, which can then be exported to distribute to other people in the business.

2. Social sources

Use this report to identify traffic trends for social media and compare social traffic to your overall site traffic.

You can:

  • Use the table below the graph to look at which social networks are sending the most traffic.
  • Click on each social network to see which pages on your website were shared on these networks + how many visits the pages received.
  • By clicking on Activity Stream, you can see who is contributing to social sharing and the source content where your URL was found.

Google Analytics Social Reports

3. Pages

This report shows you which URLs are generating social activity. Click on each link to find out which social networks generated the visits. This is a good way to learn what content is most popular on each network.

Google Analytics Social Reports

4. Conversions

This shows the number of conversions or goal completions made by visitors from social media networks. You first need to set up goals to enable this report.

You can filter the report to show conversion for individual goals or specific goal sets. Click on the button under “Conversion” at the top to select which goals to display data for.

If you have set goal values, the conversion value will also be displayed, helping you to assess which social networks are adding the most direct value.

NB. If you click on “Assisted vs. Last Interaction Analysis” you can then drill down into which social networks are contributing to conversions where the social visit is not the last click. This can help with your attribution analysis.

Google Analytics Social Reports

5. Social plugins

This section shows you how many times visitors have used the social bookmarking buttons on your website, as well as which pages are the most shared. This data helps you understand what type of content visitors are most likely to share socially.

By default, GA will only show data for the Google +1 button. To enable buttons like Facebook and Twitter, you need to add additional tracking code to your website. Turn to the GA Help Center for more info on social tracking.

Google Analytics Social Reports

6. Social visitors flow

This gives you a neat visualization of how people from social networks flow through your website. This helps you identify common paths and exit points, giving you more insight into what social visitors are trying to achieve when they land on the site.

Google Analytics Social Reports

A few pointers:

  • Highlight traffic flows from individual social networks to see how each audience behaves
  • Highlight flows through specific landing pages to see how your content strategy is working for social traffic
  • Identify exit points and ask yourself whether this is a relevant place for people to exit, or whether the page isn’t performing well.

You’ll see on some of the reports a link for “Export” and “Add to dashboard”. These are really useful as they allow you to download the data to use outside of GA and add specific tables/graphs/charts to Dashboards you have already created.

Google Analytics Social Reports

Recommended further reading: KISSmetrics Ultimate Guide to the New Google Analytics Social Reports.

Share your thoughts

  • Ryan commented on March 17, 2016

    Google analytic is not only stat for website but it also the good gears for web developers to track all user behavior in their website. The social feature meets the deployment of new generation. I also use with google webmaster tools.

    • I like to use all google products like analytic and webmaster tools. Although some people tell that these can’t help search ranking, but I also use it because it’s easy to use and tracking and the most it’s free!

  • James Gurd commented on December 19, 2012

    Morning all and thanks for the comments.

    Omniaural- yes it is bare bones, it was intended only as an into to those who are new to this suite or didn’t know it was there. ‘How to’ would be a more intermediate/advanced post – a good idea for a future blog…

    Anton Koekemoer – yes the reports can be useful if you know how you want to use them. It’s important that web owners set-up tracking for all the social activity on their website as GA doesn’t do this by default.


  • Omniaural commented on December 14, 2012

    I was looking more for a ‘how to’. This is a very bare bones outline.

  • Social Media Analytics commented on December 13, 2012

    Nice article about Social Media Analytics.some says that no relationship was found between growth rates on social media and polling numbers. I see Social Media Analytics is serving pace now.although, Social Media Marketing could only look good on top of traditional methods, but can never replace. Can we really end up with an Enterprise, one-size-fits-all solutions? I really wonder. This subject is so vague right now.

  • Hi James,

    Yes, Ever since the new social features and tracking that Google analytics
    offers to webmasters and marketers alike, it has become a lot easier to add value
    to a social mention or person, especially when it comes to determining the
    network driving the most amount of referring traffic so you can target the
    network more in your marketing and engagement efforts.

Get FREE marketing planning templates

Start your Digital Marketing Plan today with our free Basic membership.

  • FREE fast start guides to review your approach
  • FREE digital marketing plan templates
  • FREE alerts on the latest developments

Need help with your Google Analytics?

Get more from your digital marketing with in-company or remote training and consultancy from Smart Insights

Get FREE marketing planning templates

Start your Digital Marketing Plan today with our free Basic membership.

  • FREE fast start guides to review your approach
  • FREE digital marketing plan templates
  • FREE alerts on the latest developments