The New Google Social Reports: 3 Missteps to Avoid

It has been a little over a month since Google announced their new social reports and marketers are beginning to get a better sense of what value they actually provide.   Although the “platform speak” (as Marshall Sponder calls it) seems to be a bit overstated (“squaring the circle” of social media ROI is a big stretch) the new social reports do offer some useful new features (my favorite is the Social Visitors Flow report, which is rather hypnotic and resulted in several lost afternoons for me last week).

However, there are a few peculiarities in these reports that might confuse you.  Here are three things to know before you get started:

1.) “Sharing” Data (Pages/Social Referral)

At first glance, you might think you have found social media marketing nirvana in this report.  It shows the pages on your site that were shared out in social communities like Google+.  It also shows how many visits each shared page received and “data hub activities” (the number of times the pages were shared in social networks).

At second glance, when you realize how low the sharing numbers (data hub activities) are, you may lapse into cardiac arrest.  But take heart, because there is one very big problem with this report:  The “sharing” data doesn’t include sharing that takes place on Facebook or Twitter.  In other words, the numbers provided in this report will be hugely under-represented for many social media marketers.

Social Snap offers a similar feature, but we approach it a bit differently.  Our Top Performers report shows content that was shared or interacted with across multiple social networks (including Facebook and Twitter).  The Top Performers report groups different types of interactions into categories. For example, the “communications” category includes metrics like facebook comments and twitter @replies.  Organizing disparate metrics into a single framework allows you to analyze engagement/interaction across all of your social channels combined and pinpoint the content that generated the best response.

2.) Assists Data (Social Value)

The new Social Value report in GA (shown in Traffic Sources/Social/Overview) reflects conversions that were “assisted” by social media.  According to Google, the “Assisted Social Conversions” metric is “the number (and monetary value) of sales and conversions the channel assisted. If a channel appears anywhere — except as the final interaction — on a conversion path, it is considered an assist for that conversion.”

This is a terrific new addition to GA for social media marketers because it goes some ways toward assessing the role of social media in conversions.  Unfortunately, the Assists shown in the Social Value report might also be under-reported, especially if you are using campaign tracked URLs.  For example, if you are using a campaign tracked URL for an offer on Twitter and you label that URL with the parameter utm_source=twitter, your Social Value pie chart may not show any conversion assists that resulted from this URL. The reason for this is the way that GA groups (or rather, does not group) social sources — which leads us to the Sources/Social Referral report…

3.) Source Data (Sources/Social Referral)

In addition to not recognizing certain URLs as being part of a social source (i.e., not recognizing traffic from utm_source=twitter as being traffic generated from Twitter) GA’s Source report confuses communities like Facebook and Twitter with tools like Hootsuite and platforms like WordPress.  Depending on how much you use tools and platforms, this can make for a very skewed Source report pie chart.

Fortunately, GA provides a Custom Groups feature that can help you separate platforms from communities and ensure that your assist data includes all of the correct sources.  You can set up groups by going into the Assisted Conversions Report under Conversions and selecting “Channel Groupings”.  You can use this feature to create many different types of groupings.  It takes some elbow grease to set up, but is well worth the time in terms of the data GA spits out.

One final note:  If you are using campaign tracked URLs, check out our free URL Tracking Tool.  The tool helps marketers manage and organize campaign URLS, which alleviates much of the data clean up that often has to be done at the end of every month in order to make sense of web analytics reports.

Happy Calculations!



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