“So many marketers talk about how they have to measure data – such a first world problem. But this should be something to get excited about. Data should be the gateway to getting more budget,” Google Analytics Advocate Adam Singer offered this insight on making social metrics manageable at his ClickZ Live SF presentation, “Harnessing the power of social metrics.”

He broke down the false positives (think obsession over Likes and Retweets), and offered tips for using Google Analytics to get the most from marketing data tracking.

Adam started with a video that captures why companies need to think at the basic level about whether they’re making things easy for their online fans and followers (check it out below). Smart use of data can help ensure you’re creating a user-friendly social presence … not asking your consumers to jump through hoops to engage.

For those who feel more like the video’s man in the checkout line when they’re trying to assess meaningful social metrics, here are Adam’s tips and tricks to getting more from Google Analytics:

Before tools and tactics, get a plan

1. Determine business objectives

Investing in social means putting budget on the line – marketers have to understand what they want out of it. This means mapping a social approach back to business goals and establishing factors that correlate with social media success. (Not-so-fun fact: The average company uses six social networks on a regular basis, but most are “unsure” whether it works. Know what success will look like to determine whether a strategy is working.)

2. Define business strategy

This is an obvious must, but you have to clearly define the mission and overall business strategy to effectively engage communities around a brand. Make sure the people in charge of social are looped in and clear on this.

“If you don’t have goals established in Google Analytics, leave this conference right now to fix that! No measurement is no marketing.”

3. Identify and cater to key stakeholders

A CMO doesn’t care about the same report as VP of sales. Show the CMO how social media is driving awareness and meaningful new engagements. Show the sales VP how social impacts conversions or online lead generation. Another pro tip: Educate these stakeholder on how to navigate their customized social reports to ensure they understand the bottom-line value the social marketing team delivers.

4. Categorize your channels

Which network is best for what? Crafting messages to users based on patterns in how they interact is essential. (Later in the presentation, Adam offered more insights on how to identify which networks drive various types of results.)

5. Set holistic KPIs

“Engagement” is fluffy so be clear about the KPIs. Adam shared that Retweets and Likes are considered important metrics by one-fifth of marketers … but they don’t really tell you anything about the bottom line. Include interaction-based metrics that apply to social users’ relationship in your KPI mix. Also, go beyond quantity-based evaluations and look for interaction-centric metrics. (Which networks or social landing pages offer the lowest bounce rate? The highest overall pages-per-visit traffic?)

Embrace the microconversion

“It’s important to tie social to the metrics that you care about, and ROI sounds nice, but it’s difficult in practice,” Adam said. Enter microconversions: These aren’t the money-makers, but they reflect the steps people take on the way to a sale. “Find *something* you can measure and sprint in that direction.”

For example: A company that created wall mounts and sold directly to dealers funneled social users to “tips and trick content.” Those pages had newsletter signups to send people down a nurture stream. The newsletter was a more appropriate opt-in passage for social users, who may be visiting a site for the first time.

To further illustrate the need for microconversions, Adam asked people to consider their social fans as people they’re dating. “You wouldn’t ask someone to marry you on the first date, you’d take them to coffee. So ask them to coffee first. Don’t diluge your social users with hard CTAs.” Instead, ask them to click to a resource where they can sign up for a newsletter.

Of course, you need to know the role of each network in your brand’s journey, but Adam said, “96 percent of channels are top-of-funnel, good for microconversions, and that’s probably where social lies.”

Why use Google Analytics? In one word: Results

“I think the power of social is awareness and top of funnel,” Adam said. But don’t take his word for it – and don’t assume that means it doesn’t add value to the bottom line: Use Google Analytics multi-attribution reports.

“The averge consumer consults 10.4 sources before making a purchase, so last-click attribution as the only metric is a null and void practice.”

Google Anlaytics

Before sharing a bevy of resources available (for free!) within Google Analytics, he offered one non-Google Analytics example to gauge social influence on web leads or sales. One company added a question on its web form, asking users “How’d you hear about us?” The respondents who answered “social media” delivered the proof of value, straight from the horse’s mouth.

Here were some of Adam’s recommended GA tools:

Don’t just look at the sources that send the most traffic, look at the ones that send engaged traffic and interactions:

  • Conversion report

When looking at the conversion rate from a social network, measure direct and social assists. Also, define the Goals and assign some monetary value to them to understand how much each new social (and web-acquired) customer is worth. Adam said, “If you don’t have Goals established in Google Analytics, leave the conference right now to fix that! No measurement is no marketing.” (So set up Google Analytics Goals, now.)

  • Social sharing report

Look at the most shared content, identify the most engaging content. There’s usually a disproportionate amount of activity around a few key pages: Replicate that success by evaluating that content. And on that note, Adam referenced that data visualization is one of the best ways to create compelling stories across the web. But he warned marketers to use only really good infographics… “The web is saturated with bad infographics! Tell good stories.”

  • Behavior flow

Visualize the traffic coming in from social media with behavior flow.  See where social traffic is going, and be sure to hone in on dropoff pages, or create custom CTAs across those pages based on social traffic source.

Traffic Flow

Adapt to the growing social universe

Adam pointed out that the social landscape is growing. “Trying to wrangle the social universe is basically like trying to wrangle the whole internet.” But he also pointed out that more networks are being aggregated into Google Analytics to help marketers better understand the wide spectrum of social communities that add value.

And speaking of broadening social horizons, he suggested that reddit is a platform brands should use to engage. “Reddit is an underused social network!” (It’s also one now aggregated into Google Analytics.)

Ultimately, Adam encouraged marketers to get better acquainted with social metrics as a means of improving their marketing at large: More audience insight is the primer for success.

Check out more ClickZ Live coverage on Brafton.