Google Analytics Social Media Reports

Google Analytics launched their new Social Media reporting features last month and I have been having a look at how useful these new reports are.

A quick overview

The Social Reporting can be found in the Traffic Sources section of Google Analytics. It looks at the following:

Social Sources – the traffic from Social Media sites to your website
Pages – which of your pages got the most traffic from Social Media sites
Conversions – which Social Media Sites led to the most onsite conversions
Social Plugins – which pages on your site are most commonly shared and which social buttons are being clicked to share them

These reports can give some great insight into how important the Social channel is to the success of your website. The reports are particularly useful when you pull the most useful and relevant metrics out of each of them to create a customised social media dashboard.

Social Media Dashboard in Google Analytics

Creating a dashboard similar to the one shown above will tell you what content on your website is being shared, how much traffic you are getting from social sources and how social is contributing to your conversions all in one report.

The limitations

While the reports can tell you a lot the part social plays in the success of your website, they are not perfect and will not give you a complete social picture.

The first problem that most people will encounter is that the Social Actions included in the reports may only show Google: +1 by default. To show the full set of activities’, as shown in the screenshot from one of our client reports below, you will need to make some changes to the code around your sharing buttons on your site. This can be made a bit easier by using sharing platforms like AddThis or ShareThis that require less coding to get the information you want into Google Analytics.

Pie chart for Social Media reports in Google Analytics

When you have got this set up correctly, after the inevitable teething problems, you can start to get a picture of how people share your website. This information is still quite basic at this stage and only gives top level stats. For example, you can see from your report that your page has been tweeted nine times, that sounds great, but who are those nine tweeters? How many followers have they got? Are they your target audience or, more importantly, are their followers your target audience? Also, what are they saying in those tweets? Are they saying that your article is the best thing they have ever read, or a shockingly inaccurate load of nonsense?

Social Media Metrics that you should be monitoring

The fact that someone has shared your page on Twitter, Facebook or any of the other social networks is normally a good sign, but that metric on its own tells you very little. It gives you limited quantitative data and no qualitative information. To get a real view of how social media is working for your brand you should also consider the following:

Social Media Monitoring graphic

Who? Who is sharing links to your pages and, perhaps more importantly, who is in their social network. This goes beyond looking at the number of followers for the sharer and should ideally look at whether those followers are the type of people you want to communicate with. Do they fit within your target demographics? Are they interested in the type of products, services or information that you are offering? Are these people influencers of your target audience?

What? What are they saying about your article/website/brand. Is it positive or negative? Knowing this will not only help you to decide whether the share is a good thing for your brand but will also give you the opportunity to reply, and perhaps help out a frustrated customer or correct an error in your article.

Why? Why are they sharing it? This could be answered on an individual level by looking at who the sharers are and what they are saying. In more general terms if one article/post/page is getting a large amount of shares though you might be able to gain insight into why that is and whether you are able to replicate that success for future articles. Looking at the broader stats might show you that articles on a particular subject are getting a lot more shares than the others and that you should update your content strategy or editorial policy to reflect this.

Do the new Google reports do this?

The new reports can answer some of these questions. The number of shares for a page can give you an idea of what kind of pages are most likely to be shared which can help you decide what to write about in future. The type of share and the visits from each social network can give you some good insight into where you are currently successful and if there are any networks that are performing poorly for you.

The reports give you some information on what people are saying about you, but it is very limited at the moment as they only can bring in information from Google ‘Hub Partners’. The Hub Partners include some large social networks including Digg and Reddit but do not include Facebook or Twitter, and are unlikely to do so any time soon as Facebook and Google seem incapable of playing nicely together. This is a real shame because the reports that include data from the hub partners are really useful, and look great. The screenshot below shows some of the comments, mainly from depressed Everton fans, which Kristian’s excellent transfer window infographic received on Reddit.

Screenshot of Reddit comments from Google Analytics social reports

Seeing only a very small part of the picture means that it is not practical to use Google Analytics to monitor what people are saying about your website. These reports also currently offer no search functionality so you may have to read through a lot of comments if you have a particularly popular website.

Perhaps the biggest problem I have with the reports though is that they give no information about the number of followers or friends people sharing your site have. This means that from a share from someone with one follower has to be treated the same as a share from someone with hundreds of thousands of followers. Not ideal.

To Summarise

The new social reports are a really good addition to Google Analytics and provide even more insight in to how people get to your website and what they share with their network. They do however; fall well short when it comes to monitoring social media.

If Google can persuade Facebook, Twitter and the other major social networks to join them as Hub Partners and share their data then we will be getting closer to a complete social media monitoring platform. Even if this were to happen though then the current system would still only be monitoring social media activity that includes people sharing your website content. This means that the majority of conversions happening on social media about your brand would still go unheard.

Here at NPP Digital we use a wide range of tools and experience to make sure our clients are getting the best out of social. If you’d like to find out how we can help you please get in touch.


3 thoughts on “Google Analytics Social Media Reports

  1. Anna Lewis

    Hi Luke, nice summary, I like your opinions on the features. It would be great to have information on sentiment analysis so back up your ‘what’ point!

    I also like the look of your dashboard, I created one too which is here if you want to have a look:

    What did you think of the reports showing username data of people who shared your content? I find it strange to see that sort of information in GA but it makes sense why Google updated their privacy policy recently!

  2. Luke Hay Post author

    Thanks Anna, you’re right, I should have included some sentiment data to back up my ‘what’ point. Having said that I do think (truly accurate) sentiment analysis is still something that’s missing from Social Media monitoring. We use tools that offer this analysis and while they are helpful to get overall trends it’s almost impossible to get a high level of accuracy without some manual intervention.

    Thanks for sharing your dashboard. There’s some really useful widgets in there. I particularly like the way you’ve got the goal values there from each social network, very useful.

    I am also surprised about the new data that’s available through the reports. It seems strange that on the one hand Google seem to be taking away a lot of seemingly harmless data (the ‘not provided’ keywords for example) but on the other they are willing to share usernames and comments from Google+ accounts!

  3. Pingback: Trackbacks in Google Analytics | aldissandmore - a technology and digital meme curation blog from Tim Aldiss

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