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social media how toDo you want to understand your social media return-on-investment (ROI)?

Are you tracking the customer journey in Google Analytics?

In this article you’ll discover how to collect and analyze the data you need to properly calculate how social media marketing impacts your business.

measure social media roi

Find steps to measure social media ROI with Google Analytics.

#1: Create a Custom Segment

The good news is that you already have data you can segment into control groups. When someone visits your website from a social media network, Google has an automated way of identifying that user and adding him/her to reporting under Acquisition > Social.

The challenge with the data setup is that you have a limited number of reports you can view, and you have very little control over how the data is displayed.

The solution: Set up a custom segment that mirrors how Google Analytics automatically tracks the traffic from each social network. Here’s how:

Log into Google Analytics.

  • Go to Acquisition > Social > Network Referrals. Hover over any of the social networks in the report to see how Google determines the traffic from that network.
  • At the top of the page, click on Add Segment, then click the red New Segment box.
add a segment in google analytics report

Adding segments is easy to do.

  • Title the report GA Default Social Users.
  • Click on Conditions.
  • Select Source Contains and type in what you saw in the drop-down list (e.g., Twitter.com). Using Twitter as an example, you’ll notice other types of Twitter traffic come up as you type. Take note of what shows up and add those too. You can do that by clicking OR and typing the new criteria.
  • Review the All Sessions numbers to see if they match the Default Social Users numbers. If they don’t, follow steps 8 and 9 to edit the segment.
  • Click on the arrow next to the segment at the top of the page and select Edit.
  • Repeat this process for each social network until all of the numbers match.
  • Type in the network name and see if additional traffic sources show up. If they do, add them to your segment. Then check again to see if the All Sessions numbers match the GA Default Social Users number.
all sessions in google analytics

Your GA All Sessions number should match the Default Social Users number.

If you have a lot of social traffic, you may run out of fields if you keep selecting OR for each criterion. If that’s the case, consider using Regex to include multiple criteria in one field.

match regex in google analytics

Use Matches Regex to include multiple criteria in one field.

To use Regex, select Source > Matches Regex. Use the pipe (see the image above) with no spaces before or after each criterion to signify OR. To get the pipe, hold shift and press the backslash key.

#2: Isolate Social Media Users in the Data Set

The next step is to set up the data so you can isolate traffic into two groups: default social users and social link clickers.

Default users are those who came to your site from social media and are automatically tracked by Google Analytics. These users did not come from the links you created and shared.

Social link clickers are users who clicked on the links you distributed on your social media properties and the earned traffic that resulted from shares of those links.

To isolate the two groups, use the Google URL builder to create trackable links you can share on your social networks.

First, I suggest you create an excel spreadsheet that includes all of your sources and media so you can copy and paste them into the URL builder and keep your data clean.

google url builder

Use Google’s URL builder to separately track default users and social link clickers.

Before you complete the URL builder fields, be aware that capitalization and spacing matter! Whether you’re using title case or lowercase, be consistent. For example, Ebook, ebook , E Book and EBook will show up as separate data sets in Google Analytics.

In the URL builder, type in the URL you want to share. This must be a link to your website.

Step 2 in the URL builder is where you add meta data to your link that Google Analytics will be able to read and include in your data set.

In the Campaign Source field, type SLC + (the social network). SLC means social link clicker and is the key to isolating these users. Be sure you include it!

slc campaign marker in google url builder

Track SLC in the Campaign Source.

Enter the content type in the Campaign Medium field (e.g., blog post, infographic, video, etc.).

Type the content title in the Campaign Name field (e.g., How to Create Social Media Control Groups in Google Analytics).

When you’re done, click Submit. You’ll get a long URLcopy it and shorten it with your social media management tool. Next, add your status update and post it.

Follow the steps in section #1 to add a custom segment that contains SLC in the source so you can run reports.

#3: Analyze the Data

Before you analyze your data, come up with a list of questions you want the data to answer, and then list the metrics you’ll use to answer those questions.

Here are a few ideas for questions to answer: Does sharing content on social channels influence consideration for products and services? Does sharing content published on your website influence a higher or lower propensity for consideration? Does curating content influence a higher or lower propensity for consideration?

custom segments in google analytics

Use custom segments to analyze control groups.

To conduct your analysis, use the custom segments you created for GA default social users and social link clickers.

google analytics export in excel

Export the Google Analytics data to Excel to calculate percent changes between your control groups.

Navigate to the reports that hold the metrics you want to analyze, then copy and paste the metrics into an Excel spreadsheet or use the Export function to create a file with raw data that you can open in Excel.

Calculate the percent changes from one group to the other to see where the outliers are and highlight the insights you find in the data.

Wrapping Up

Interested in conducting an analysis like this inside of your Google Analytics account? Here are resources with the pre-built segments and a custom report on goal conversion data.

Understanding how to measure social media ROI has been the number-one topic marketers want to understand for the last four years.

Look at how social media influences the customer journey of awareness, engagement, consideration, acquisition, retention, advocacy and loyalty.

Use Google Analytics to set up control groups to identify the website visits.

What do you think? Have you performed control group analyses within Google Analytics? Do you have advice or findings to share with others? Please leave a comment below and join the conversation.

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  • Thanks Nichole. Really excellent post.

  • Nichole_Kelly

    Thank you for the feedback. I’m so thrilled it was helpful. 😉

  • Sarah Stahl

    Love the idea of this post! However, I tried very hard to follow each step and kept getting lost. 🙁

  • Daniel Sever

    Why did you remove my comment? I’m serious about the newsletter link errors.

  • Daniel – Did you comment have a link in it? If it did, it is in moderation

  • Daniel – Please send a copy of your newsletter to jen@socialmediaexaminer.com

    The link you just posted works fine for me.

  • Thanks for the feedback, Sarah. Perhaps reading this article first might help: http://new-theme-socialmediaexaminer.pantheon.io/google-analytics-basics/

  • Pingback: How to Measure Your ROI Using Google Analytics | Splendid Image D&MP()

  • Be sure to check out the useful resources Nichole provides: http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com/sme-google-analytics-resources/

  • This is a great article with instruction. One thing I have found frustrating, not with the article, but with GA itself, is when I have created new segments recently (ironically enough one for Facebook paid results – unfortunately our tracking codes are all over the board and I’m in the process of rectifying that) it will only allow me to look at a 90-day window, which does not help when preparing bi-annual or annual reports for my clients.

  • Lawrence Pickup

    It’s a very detailed and interesting article on how to improve measurement of social traffic to a website but to suggest this is THE way for prove ROI is potentially dangerous. It is part of A way of doing it for certain kinds of business. If you are good at using social engagement to build trust, increase positive engagement, and leverage advocacy and you try to justify the effort simply by measuring direct social traffic and conversions then you could convince yourself all that effort was a waste of time. You need other ways of measuring the long term impact such as gathering unique identifiers like emails or other data to compare frequency and average spend, or develop lead scoring based on social funnel activity to be able to compare conversion rates of “socially qualified” prospects.

  • Prabahnshu Gupta

    WOOW! You made my day Nichole. You have explained this topic so effortlessly. Measuring social media ROI was never so easy!

  • Nichole_Kelly

    Sarah – I’m so sorry it was difficult to follow each step. The good news is that I’ve actually done all the work for you. If you click on the link Cindy provided you can apply the custom segments to your Google Analytics account with a couple of clicks. I hope that helps!

  • Nichole_Kelly

    Kelly – I understand your frustration. You are correct that you can only look at 90 days worth of data with a custom segment. I prefer to go back and run reports with only 30 days worth of data, place those in excel and then create a month to month change analysis. I’ve found that when you run data with larger time frames, it’s harder to see some of the more interesting changes. You definitely want to bring some order to the chaos on your tracking codes, consistency is key as you know. Hopefully you can create a master list of codes that will be used going forward. I usually have a system that covers source and medium consistently and then let the campaign field be more flexible. Thank you so much for commenting.

  • Nichole_Kelly

    Lawrence – I totally agree. This article only represents one piece of an overall analysis. This focuses on measuring consideration, but to have a complete picture you’d need to look at the impact on awareness, engagement, consideration, acquisition, retention, loyalty and advocacy. This requires a well-thought out data infrastructure and data integration. The good news is that doing a Google Analytics analysis like this is approachable for any organization regardless of how sophisticated their data infrastructure is. Thanks so much for commenting.

  • Nichole_Kelly

    Awesome. Thank you so much for the feedback. I’m thrilled you found the article useful.

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  • ali abrahim

    that on social on network is cooperation on program to be easy feedback, a

  • Jeannette Koczela

    Thank-you so much for this article, Nicole. It’s amazing how many useful tools Google has that many of us don’t even know about. I can’t wait to try this one.

  • Great tips! Thank you for sharing, Puru!

  • Awesome Post! Thanks so much.

  • Prakaiwan Saengvirochanakul

    This is very interesting. May i also ask you, where can we find the data of a company about ROI of their social media strategy?

  • Nichole_Kelly

    Yes, you can absolutely do this if you want to analyze all of you social traffic without much segmentation. The benefit of using SLC (Social Link Clicker) as the source is that you can separate out those who are clicking on your content from your social properties and the resulting shared traffic from organic social traffic. I prefer to make it easy to slice and dice and aggregate only the pieces I want. Also by including the social network in the source you can separate by channel. I’ve compared using this method with the default method and I have found it to be more effective and accurate for my analysis. Thank you for commenting!

  • Nichole_Kelly

    You bet Jeannette. I’m so thrilled you found it useful. Let me know how your analysis goes!

  • Nichole_Kelly

    Sweet Debra! I’m happy you found it helpful!

  • Deb

    Hi Nichole. I just followed your instructions and am not 100% certain what the difference is between the GA Default Social Users and GAs own segment All Social Media Visits. Can you explain?

  • Sutherland Insights

    It’s really very insightful information you gave in your post! Surely this will help in analysing the traffic from the right source.

  • Tom

    What do you mean by ”organic social traffic”? Thanks.

  • Nichole, I am rereading this article and realizing it would take me hours upon hours to follow your directions. Can I hire you or someone you recommend to help set this – meaning social reports, segmented, for me?

  • Puru, your recommendation appears to be a bit more streamlined (simpler) than what Nichole outlines, which is excellent, but likely more data than I need/want. Would I be able to hire you to set up my social reports – as you describe?

  • Karen, thank you for your kind words. And I’m glad you like my suggestion.

    Unfortunately, I don’t offer a service to setup Google Analytics. I mostly work on building Terminus and share what I learn as part of addressing the problems my customers face.

    I hope you find someone who can setup your GA as you need.

  • Thank you! Appreciate your quick reply. I imagine I can find someone locally, but like what you wrote! 🙂

  • Nichole_Kelly

    Hi Tom – Organic social traffic is traffic that came to your website from a social channel but NOT from content distributed. This can also be called earned social traffic. For example, this would apply if someone read a post on your blog and tweeted it, then people clicked on that link and came to the blog post. The people who clicked on the link came from Twitter, but it’s from content someone else shared, hence organic or earned. I hope that helps!

  • Nichole_Kelly

    Thanks so much!

  • Nichole_Kelly

    Hmmm…I don’t have a All Social Media Visits segment in GA. So I’m not sure, but it’s quite possible they are the same. If they are, yay you already have that segment built for you. But you can check it using the instructions provided by applying the segment and comparing to to the social report. I hope that helps!

  • Nichole_Kelly

    Unfortunately, most companies don’t disclose this information. You can do a search on Google and there may be some case studies that are revealed. I hope that helps!

  • Mitchell Bymoen

    Does something like this exist for Facebook? I’m looking for a way to monitor the stats on multiple Facebook pages using the Insights feature without having to go to each individual page constantly to look.