Social Media Tracking Made Simple

- January 25, 2011

Social media channels have proven to be great marketing tools for companies, but measuring success can be difficult. You may be working significant hours each week to enhance your company’s social media efforts, but how can you be sure that you are tracking everything as optimally as possible?

First, it’s important to mention that social media success is not necessarily going to be visits to your website or immediate purchases of your products from social channels. Success can also be measured by engagement with fans or followers and the conversations held within the channels. 

That said, there are times when you’ll want to drive traffic to your own website or blog pages from channels such as Facebook and Twitter.  When doing this, you will want to make sure that you tag those links for Google Analytics (GA).  For basic instructions on how to tag links for GA, please see the blog post title, Yes, Google Analytics can track that, too!

If you are not familiar with tagging for analytics, you should read the above post first, because in short, you will not be able to successfully track social media visits if you are not going to code all of the links for Google Analytics first. At this time, Google Analytics depends upon those query parameters to know what referral information to write into the GA referring cookie (the __utmz cookie).

Below are a few examples… Here’s a hypothetical tweet on Twitter:

“Social media made simple from #morevisibility!!! http://bit.ly/1jiXS

Of course merely reading the tweet will not show you anything in GA (although it may provide value in terms of the information tweeted) but a visitor clicking on that bit.ly link will show you the following in GA (you can click on the link to get the full effect):

Source: direct
Medium: (none)
Campaign: (none)
Content: (none)

This is because, as you can see, there are no query parameters at the end of the URL once you get to our website’s homepage after you click the bit.ly link. The path that a visitor takes looks like:

Twitter >> Bit.ly >> MoreVisibility

Since bit.ly is merely a re-direct to MoreVisibility, Twitter isn’t credited with the referring information.

Another example with a different bit.ly link:

“Social media made simple from #morevisibility!!! http://bit.ly/f4Bfqg

A visitor clicking on this second bit.ly link will show you the following in GA:

Source: twitter
Medium: social-media
Campaign: January 2011 Tweets
Content: Social Media Made Simple

This is possible due to the query parameters at the end of the URL after you’re redirected to our site. The path that a visitor takes is still:

Twitter >> Bit.ly >> MoreVisibility

But since we added the query paraments into the bit.ly shortening tool, it will show twitter as the source in Google Analytics, social-media as the medium, and so on, when clicking on that bit.ly link.

Last example: Same tweet, only this time we are not using a bit.ly URL:

“Social media made simple from #morevisibility!!!  www.morevisibility.com

Now, if anyone clicks on this link you will see the following in GA:

Source: twitter.com
Medium: referral
Campaign: (none)
Content: (none)

twitter.com is now the source and the medium is a referral because that is a link on Twitter’s website that someone clicked on to get to the website. The path would obviously not contain bit.ly because we did not shorten the link this time:

Twitter >> MoreVisibility

As many of you knowTwitter only allows 140 characters per tweet.  Almost any page other than a homepage will use up quite a bit of valuable space, so that is why shortening links can be helpful.
Facebook does not have quite as strict restrictions on character counts, so you could use the actual URL (without Google Analytics tagging) and it will show up as a referral in GA.

Browser-based apps vs. desktop-based apps are also something to consider. If it’s a desktop-based app (one that you actually install on your PC where you don’t use a browser such as Chrome or Internet Explorer to control), then any clicks on links without GA query parameters will appear as direct traffic. If the links are tagged with the GA query parameters, then the traffic will appear with the source / medium combination that you have used in the query parameters.

Browser-based apps (ones that you log-in to a website and are using a browser to control) could appear as referrals from that website that you’re logged-in to, like Hootsuite.

So as you set out to track your social media efforts, it’s important to understand the intricacies of tracking and the ways in which this traffic may appear in your Google Analytics.

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