How to Measure Social Media Results Using Google Analytics

This is a guest post by Andrew Bruce Smith, Director at escherman. Andrew will be speaking at Social Media Measurement & Monitoring (26-27 March, London) on ‘Using Google Analytics to Measure...

This is a guest post by Andrew Bruce Smith, Director at escherman. Andrew will be speaking at Social Media Measurement & Monitoring (26-27 March, London) on ‘Using Google Analytics to Measure the Value of Social Media’. He will also be holding a workshop ‘Measuring Social Media with Google Analytics on the 18th June in London

Consider the following questions: 

  • Is your organisation’s website central to your overall marketing and business strategy?
  • Have you defined marketing and business goals that can be tied to actions and events on your website?
  • Do you have Google Analytics installed on your website?

If you can answer yes to all three of these questions, then you are well positioned to solve one of the thorniest problems in social media – namely, how do I prove the value and impact of my social media activity?

The key lies in the use of multi-channel funnels in Google Analytics. Or to describe it in slightly easier terms, attribution analysis.

Until recently, one of the key ways that marketeers assessed the value of an online marketing channel was to give credit to the activity immediately prior to the desired outcome, e.g. a sale, a download, etc. For example, somebody clicks on a paid ad and then buys a product. PPC gets all the credit. But what about all the other marketing activity the business has invested in – PR, social media, etc? What role did these play in delivering the desired outcome? Until the introduction of multi-channel funnels in Google Analytics in August 2011, there was no way to assess this in a meaningful way (or at least easily and inexpensively).

Attribution analysis allows anyone using Google Analytics to understand which combination of interactions results in the most valuable outcomes for the organisation. For example, it might be a mix of social media, online PR and natural search, or some other combination.

Social media is more often than not an assistive medium. In other words, it doesn’t result in an immediate conversion, but has a vital role to play in initiating a relationship which will ultimately deliver the desired outcome

Using first or last click attribution will often lead to the conclusion that social media activity may deliver lots of traffic – but that traffic never results in a valuable outcome.

However, those organisations that have begun using attribution analysis are invariably finding that last click analysis often seriously undervalues the role of certain digital channels – social media in particular.

Here is a common scenario. Using last click analysis, senior management look at their web analytics data and conclude that since natural and paid search is generating 70% of traffic, it deserves 70% of the marketing budget. Social media delivers a good deal of traffic, but nobody seems to buy anything as a direct result of this traffic. Management are thus inclined to reduce investment in social media.



Viewed through the lense of attribution analysis, a different picture emerges. The most valuable interaction pattern turns out to be a combination of social media and paid search. Namely, a visit is generated by a Tweet, which doesn’t result in a sale. But that person returns at a later time via clicking on a paid ad – and then does buy. Without the original social media generated visit, would that sale have occurred?

Social media makes an indirect contribution to a very concrete goal – namely sales. But the value of that indirect contribution can now be measured. The other point to bear in mind is that this doesn’t just work for e-commerce sites. Any activity that you regard as valuable to you can be treated as a goal – and in the impact of social media on those goals can assessed using attribution analysis.

And the best thing of all? Google Analytics is free to use (and given that research firm eConsultancy estimates that 86% of UK businesses have already installed it, chances are you already have it in place). The only things preventing people from gaining richer insight into the value of their social media activity is making the effort to define goals, objectives and targets – and using attribution analysis tools already built into Google Analytics to better understand the mix of interactions. What’s not to like?

To hear Andrew at Social Media Measurement & Monitoring (26-27 March, London) – book early bird tickets hereHe is also our trainer for a unique workshop on Measuring Social Media with Google Analytics (17th April and 18th June London) – book on our events page

image sources: Google

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  1. Philip Sheldrake Reply

    A cogent description of multi-channel funnels Andrew. Very nicely presented 🙂

    This capability, what Google describes as the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT) as you know, is definitely a marked improvement to last-click attribution, and it should be embraced whole heartedly.

    Saying that, such embrace must still recognise that this is an improvement and not the holy grail. Value is as much a relative quantity as it is absolute. I need to know whether I should invest X in social media (if you want to put it like that), or indeed X+1. But that 1 has to come from another pot, so the investments must be comparative.

    I discuss this challenge at slightly greater length here:

    1. Andrew Bruce Smith Reply

      You are of course entirely correct to say this is an improvement rather than the holy grail. Though I’d suggest that having a 70W bulb to illuminate your social media efforts is far better than total darkness – even if you’d ideally like a 100W bulb 😉

      1. Philip Sheldrake Reply

        Nice metaphor. Although I’d say cast a blue light instead of a white one. All things are visible, albeit dimmer, with a 70W versus 100W 🙂

  2. Sean Clark Reply

    Andrew a great post, I think Social Media Analytics is getting more robust as experience in the sector grows. Readers may also like to try this Social Media Dashboard for Google Analytics which pulls out some key data in one view

    1. Andrew Bruce Smith Reply

      Thanks for sharing the dashboard – Justin Cutroni is also a good man to follow for excellent insight into Google Analytics – and free dashboards 😉

    2. Andrew Bruce Smith Reply

      Thanks Sean – Justin Cutroni is also another great source of insight into all things GA – as well as a generous man when it comes to free dashboards 😉

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