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Social Media Traffic: Get It Together in Google Analytics

Your social media traffic data is split across several reports in Google Analytics. Are you taking steps to get it together?

Social media traffic sources appear in Social :: Network Referrals, as well as in Sources :: All Traffic and Sources :: Referrals. They also appear in Sources :: Campaigns if you use campaign-tagged links, not to mention the ones masquerading as direct traffic.

There’s little you can do about the direct traffic, but to get a handle on the rest of it, it’s helpful to understand where the reports overlap and where they don’t. Some of the sources for these visits are accounted for across reports. Others appear only in Sources reports and not in Social reports.

Social Sources Aggregated in GA

For example, the Sources :: All Traffic report shows visits from t.co and twitter.com and mobile.twitter.com (values of the Source dimension), while the Social :: Network Referrals report pulls them together as visits from Twitter (a single value of the Social Network dimension).

It’s not clear from these two reports whether the two campaign-tagged sources “twitter” and “Twitter” on the left are also pulled together into the social network “Twitter” on the right. Actually it’s not even clear that the other three sources are part of the social network, either, but we’d like to think that, wouldn’t we?

The Big Questions

  • Besides the big names, what other sites are considered Social Networks in GA?
  • Which domains and subdomains does GA associate with each network?
  • What does GA do with campaign-tagged sources like “twitter” and “Twitter”? Do they count as Social Network visits or not?

Clues: An Obscure Dimension within a Buried Definition

Answers to these questions are conspicuously absent from the GA documentation on social networks, although you will find a helpful dimension here called “ga:hasSocialSourceReferral”. You may have seen this somewhat obscure dimension (named “Social”) in the Multi-Channel Funnels reports, if you’ve ever dug into the definitions within the Basic Channel Grouping Template.

The definition of the Social Network channel clarifies that “Social=Yes” means GA recognizes the visit source as a social network. It also indicates that campaign-tagged sources need to be tagged with a few specific mediums to count as social.

Multi-Channel Funnel definition of Social Network channel

The full regular expression, not visible in the screen shot above, is:

^(social|social-network|social-media|sm|social network|social media)$

which implies that any visit resulting from a link you’ve tagged with utm_medium=social, or any of the other terms in the expression, GA will count as coming from a Social Network. This may be true for Multi-Channel Funnels, but is not necessarily true for Social reports (more on that later).

Answers: Unearthed in Existing Data

Since we have a lot of data from multiple clients here at LunaMetrics, I thought, “Why not see how many different social networks we’re already capturing and what domains are associated with them? While I’m at it, I’ll check the campaign-tagged social traffic, too, and see if it’s really all Social=Yes.”

With a little help from Google docs and GA Magic Script, I queried some of our largest clients’ data sets and compiled a list of 195 unique Social Network names, corresponding to 5,015 unique Sources (domains). Although this is almost certainly not a comprehensive list, it sheds some light on what may possibly appear as a social source.

Click here to see my (partial) list of GA Social Networks and Corresponding Domains.

Additionally, I found that campaign traffic from links tagged with utm_medium=social did not all turn up as Social=Yes. Only the traffic where utm_source values were in GA’s list of social sources (still waiting for that to be published) counted as Social=Yes.

For example, this campaign traffic counts as Social=Yes and appears in both the Sources and Social reports:

utm_medium=social
utm_source=twitter

This campaign traffic does not count as Social=Yes and appears only in Sources reports:

utm_medium=social
utm_source=fb

Because the second source was “fb” instead of “facebook”, GA did not aggregate this visit with the other visits under the Social Network “Facebook” in the Social reports.

No More Giant Regular Expressions?

Others have advocated tagging every social link with utm_medium=referral and relying on the Sources :: Referrals report to combine data, but I hate using a giant regular expression to pull social media sources from that data and I’d never have them all.

You can make pulling social traffic data easier by ensuring that you don’t abbreviate social sources in your campaign-tagged links and always use one of the social mediums in the defined list. That way you can see aggregated social network traffic in the Social reports, or query for it using ga:hasSocialSourceReferral==Yes (with a capital Y).

Unfortunately until GA publishes the complete list of sites they recognize as social, you have to rely on the data you can already see, or one by one test campaign-tagged URLs to see if those sites appear in your data as Social=Yes. Feel free to start with the list of social networks from my data and add to it.

Have you done any testing or checking of social sources in Google Analytics? What solutions have you found for pulling this data together? What questions are you still trying to answer? Please share in the comments.

Dorcas Alexander

About Dorcas Alexander

Dorcas Alexander is a Digital Analyst working with Google Analytics. Her path to LunaMetrics included stints in ad agency creative, math, computer science, language technology research, and corporate training. She loves to learn and teach what she’s learned. One of the top-rated tournament Scrabble players in Pennsylvania, Dorcas has an insatiable drive to compete and win. “Impossible” is not in her vocabulary.

http://www.lunametrics.com/blog/2013/04/25/social-media-traffic-google-analytics/

13 Responses to “Social Media Traffic: Get It Together in Google Analytics”

Keith says:

I was tagging URLs from social for a while, but found it to actually be counter productive. I personally just use the Google social report, along with some custom segments for my reports (similar to the regex above).

I also use bit.ly quite a bit, which provides another layer of data to play with.

John says:

This is very helpful info, thank. One thing I still don’t get is why GA does assign the medium value of ‘social’ to referrals from social media sites, rather than ‘referral’. (By the same logic that referrals from search engines are assigned the medium ‘organic’.) The Social reporting is great and all, but it often nice to get the high-level view comparing different mediums before drilling in to a specific medium.

So it makes sense to me to use campaign tagging wherever possible to identify traffic from social media sites as ‘social’, knowing that there will be leakage from links posted by others, etc.

Or am I missing something here? Is it better to tag social media links with utm_medium=referral for consistency, being careful to set utm_source to a recognizable social media site in order to ensure the traffic gets picked up in social and multi-channel reports, as pointed out in the article?

John says:

Correction in my previous comment: second sentence should read…’why GA does NOT assign the medium value of ‘social’…

Dorcas Alexander Dorcas Alexander says:

It really is a matter of personal preference. My preference is to tag things as social. Other people, like Keith who commented above, just use what’s in the Social report and custom segments with regular expressions in other parts of GA, as well as information outside GA such as data from bit.ly. (If you shorten all your links with bit.ly, then bit.ly gives you stats on them.) I also would love it if GA would assign the medium value of “social” to referrals from social media sites, but give us the option in the admin section for what we want to count as social. Clearly they already have some means of deciding whether it’s social or not, now they just need to make it more transparent and not such a black box!

Mary Kay Lofurno says:

Nice post, thank you. Mary Kay

Polona says:

If I understand this right there always need to be combination utm_medium=social & utm_source=1fromlist (not abbreviation) if i want to get this traffic also into social report. Would it work aslo if there would be only strings in those 2 parametrs – for example > utm_medium=social_xxx & utm_source=facebook_xxx?

Dorcas Alexander Dorcas Alexander says:

Hi Polona, I haven’t tested it, but I think GA would not count as social any sources that have strings attached, if they are not also included in the list. I say that because we can see GA’s definition of social mediums is very strict, and so I assume their definition of social sources would also be as strict. The regular expression used to define social mediums does not allow anything before or after each term in the list, as indicated by the caret (^) at the beginning and the dollar sign ($) at the end of the expression.

Polona says:

Dorcas, thank you. I really don’t understand why they complicated soo much in GA that under social report tagged traffic is not included and some work-around needs to be find if we want to have everything gathered. :-) Probbably there is also no trick to inforce somehow this “ga:hasSocialSourceReferral==Yes” into tagged traffic?

Dorcas Alexander Dorcas Alexander says:

The only trick I know is the one I wrote about here, i.e. don’t abbreviate social sources in your campaign-tagged links and always use one of the social mediums in the defined list. If you do that, GA will mark your tagged traffic as ga:hasSocialSourceReferral==Yes.

Chip Jones says:

Dorcas,
Great info, thanks! The list of social networks that you provided shows the values as starting with a capital letter. Your example uses all lower case values. Does the capitalization matter?

Dorcas Alexander Dorcas Alexander says:

Hi Chip, Capitalization does not appear to matter in your campaign tags. Our tags here at LunaMetrics are always lowercase, and that data appears in the Social reports under Social Network as long as we don’t abbreviate or include any extra characters in the source name (e.g. utm_source=twitter will show up under Social Network Twitter). It looks like GA prefers to display the social network name with the same capitalization that the network itself prefers, although this is mere speculation on my part. Two quick examples: in the copyright notice on twitter.com, Twitter is capitalized, but in the copyright notice on reddit.com, reddit is not capitalized. This is the same capitalization you’ll find in the values of Social Network in GA.

Greg says:

What a bizarre post to not mention possible *duplication* of data.

Reyes Baez says:

Dorcas,very informative article on using Google Analytics to track and understand your social media traffic to your website or blog. I’m a marketing newbie that just started learning social media marketing basics. And who better to learn about Google Analytics then a person who’s a Digital Analyst working for Google. Thanks for the valuable resource.