An inside look from Google: How you can use Google Analytics Social Reports to boost your bottom line

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At SES New York, Google Analytics insiders offered tips on using social reports to maximize social media marketing.

Social media marketing may be a mainstream practice, but only 23 percent of businesses with social campaigns in place are satisfied with their social measurements. At last week’s SES New York, insiders from the Google Analytics team shared insights with attendees on how the new social marketing metrics can help them understand the bottom-line benefits of their social strategies and invest in social content accordingly.

To start, Google reminded marketers that “social for social’s sake” is not a valid reason to pour money into the channel. While social media is a competitive must, marketers need to invest strategically according to which channels and shared content drives the best results for them. As Avinash Kaushik, Google’s digital marketing evangelist, said in his keynote, social marketing can’t be “faith-based.” The channel has to prove its economic value to brands. 

“Investment in social marketing can’t be faith based. It must be rooted in understanding of the economic value.”

Of course, there are some common problems encountered when marketers try to determine the impact of social media return on investment. Phil Mui, group product manager at Google Analytics, identified three major challenges associated with measuring social media:

1. Social often has an upper-funnel impact, and upper-funnel impact is always trickier to measure.

2. Social data silos are hard to aggregate and compare. Marketers presumably have campaigns in place for Facebook , Google+, Twitter and more. Each of these platforms counts as a silo, but then there is also the matter of breaking down social audiences according to age, gender, regions, etc. per platform and across platforms.

3. Off-site engagement is hard to identify and measure.

Mui offered insights on four key goals social marketers should be aiming toward – and four solutions offered by the new Google Analytics social reports that can help businesses boost their bottom lines.

1. FIND THE RELEVANT CONVERSATIONS WITH OFF-SITE ACTIVITY

“What are the relevant conversations happening in social?” Mui urged marketers to ask themselves. 

SES New York 2012 Google Analytics Ripples

Ilya Grigorik, software engineering manager at Google Analytics, was also present at the SES panel, and he offered attendees an inside look at how the soon-to-be rolled out social metrics features handle off-site activity reports. At present, high-level off-site data is only available for Google+ interactions.

Under the Activities Stream, marketers can monitor Events or Conversations. Events will show when a +1 happens, and the Conversations tab will open Google’s Ripple visualization. This serves as an interactive graphic of the shares for a brand’s website content (and/or content shared exclusively on Google+) on Google’s social network. The data allows businesses to quickly identify their top content as well as find the key industry players who engage them on the web.

Using this information, marketers can get a sense of which custom content is the most successful on Google’s network and share more of the same. They can also try understand the context of shares to discern where ongoing content marketing campaigns can answer users’ questions. Moreover, insights on who is frequently sharing brand content will help marketers ensure they reach the right social audiences and highlight opportunities to develop brand advocates.

Again, Mui was quick to clarify that Ripple visualization is only available for Google+ information as the company doesn’t have access to this type of data for other social networks. 

2. IDENTIFY THE SOCIAL REFERRALS (OR VISITS) THAT ARE RELEVANT TO YOUR BUSINESS WITH SOCIAL SOURCES

Marketers already have insights on their refferal traffic courtesy of the “Referrals” tab under “Traffic Sources” in Google Analytics. But at SES New York 2012, Google previewed the up-and-coming “Social” tab under “Traffic Sources.” This tab will offer a more intuitive breakdown of the social traffic entering a site according to platforms. Marketers who have set up goals in Google Analytics (which anyone hoping to garner web conversions who uses Google Analytics should do) will also have the chance to break down their social traffic according to which sources are part of reverse goal funnels. They’ll also have the ability to compare visits from social referrals to all visits to understand the level of site interaction that comes with social audiences.

By understanding which social sources drive the most website traffic, marketers can get some sense of where to devote their social marketing resources. Of course, there is a big difference between high quantities of traffic and high-quality traffic, and the nuanced social source breakdowns provided in Google Analytics will help marketers understand which sources provide engaged traffic. And this brings us to Miu’s next point.

3. FIND THE WEBSITE CONTENT THAT DRIVES SOCIAL AUDIENCE INTERACTION VIA SOCIAL VISITORS REPORTS

Once social users are led to a business’ website, it’s important to understand how they are engaging the site. Google Analytics’ social metrics reporting includes Social Visitors Reports that make it easy to see where various social audiences are interacting on the site. SES New York Google Analytics visualizationMarketers can select a social source to follow visitors’ paths across various blog posts, news articles or landing pages on a site. Alternatively, they can click on a content page to get a breakdown of which social sources drove the most traffic to that page and where visitors went next. Marketers can explore the popular pages and try to replicate what made them successful in ongoing content marketing initiatives.

In addition to showcasing the pages popular among social visitors, these funnel reports offer key insights on abandonment points. This data should call attention to pages that need to be revamped – either with more engaging information or better calls to action. (Check out other SES experts’ insights on landing page optimization for related tips.)

4. RECOGNIZE HOW SOCIAL ACTIVITY IS TRANSLATING INTO DESIRABLE TRANSACTIONS WITH CONVERSIONS AND ‘ASSISTED CONVERSIONS’

The Analytics feature that marketers might be most excited about is the new “Assisted Conversions” tool. Although social is often a top-of-funnel tool, Assisted Conversions attempts to help marketers get at the economic value of their social marketing campaigns. As depicted in the graph below, the dark blue circle represents visits from social sources that resulted in conversions. The surrounding pale blue area represents traffic that arrived from a social source in the past month and subsequently converted. As Grigorik explained, the pale blue circle attempts to show where exposure to a business’ social campaign has impacted conversions.

Social Assists

The intention of this feature is to show marketers when their social efforts are (or are not) boosting their bottom line.  

While Google hopes these insights will be helpful, Mui explained, “Google is not trying to tell marketers what model to use – it’s up to individual businesses to decide how they want to recognize data for their companies.”

The social metrics reports should be rolled out to all Analytics users within the next couple of weeks.

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Katherine GriwertKatherine Griwert is Brafton's Head of Marketing Content & Communications. She has covered SEO, social marketing and new media news for several years. Katherine has a degree in American Studies from Boston College, and her writing has been featured in a number of web publications.
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