Social Media and Google Analytics Reporting

social media and google analytics
Here are some quirks to the social media reports in Google, including how it defines social media, how using the wrong medium will stuff up your numbers and knowing that google does not have a defined channel in its core reporting API for paid social or retargeting (I know right!) ….read on to find out more!

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Social Media and Google Analytics Reporting: What you need to know

Feeling like Social Media and Google analytics are an absolute minefield? We here you. If  you haven’t had the budget internally to send you on a course or had a wizzy wig mentor by your side, this analytics stuff can become a little overwhelming.

Jill, one of the co-founders of The Colouring In Department was invited as part of her role as lead instructor for General Assembly, to deliver a workshop for Social Media Week Bristol on a topic that’s very close to her heart. Analytics. The 1.5 hour workshop sold out, so to help people who were there and needed additional notes, or if you missed it, Jill has written up this post which covers the 8 Tips she shared and the main topics that were covered in the analytics workshop.

This turned into one meaty post, but it is worth it. There are some quirks to the social media reports in Google, including how it defines social media, how using the wrong medium will stuff up your numbers and knowing that google does not have a defined channel in its core reporting API for paid social or re-targeting (I know right!) ….read on to find out more!

You are not the colouring in department

When marketers and businesses are using social media I have heard from clients and students that team members or their bosses still see social media as “just dossing around on Facebook” or “playing with the latest social media tool” .

Marketing needs to be able to track all of our campaigns in order to show the return on investment which in turn will give us more respect.  By having data at its marketing core you are no longer a marketer with an opinion, you are the one who has data and insights to drive growth. You can’t expect somebody to place value on something you are not able to measure and quantify.

Social media probably gets the biggest kick out of all of the marketing channels available because of the lack of evidence.

According to a report by BrandGym key drivers for companies using social media is to “keep up with the latest trends”. You heard correctly,  62% of businesses are only using social media because it makes them look like they’re ‘keeping up with the latest trends’ rather than because of tangible evidence and benefits that social can have to a business.

Only 23% said that they are using tangible evidence of social media.  How on earth are we supposed to shake the ‘your dossing around on Facebook’ if we can’t measure the results?

We believe that social media does bring value to the bottom line,  but in order to do this you need to have a deep understanding of how Google Analytics reports social media so that you can better attribute your social campaigns and show that crucial evidence of social supporting the businesses overall objectives.

This blog post is a summary of the key topics, tips and advice for using Google Analytics correctly.  Let’s try and increase that 23% shall we?

A Jill-Quick-Google-Analytics-Fundamentals-Checklist

There are a few things that you need to do before we jump into the nitty gritty of social media within Google Analytics.

Number 1: Enable your demographics and interests report

Make sure you turn your demographics and interest reports on.  This is a super feature within Google Analytics but you have to go into your Admin settings and turn a little toggle on to enable this report to be populated with valuable data.

audience report

The reason why this is useful, is when it comes to building your segments which we will talk about later in this post.  If you want to find out if a certain gender or age group respond better to social media you can only do it if you’ve turned this feature on.

Number 2: Use annotations, you will forget things!

This feature is so underutilized,  and it’s such a useful tool in Analytics. Have you ever logged into your accounts  and seen a spike in traffic which was a number of months ago and you find yourself asking as you scratch your head “hmm  I wonder what caused that traffic to spike”.  You are all very very busy people, and it is natural with all the plates spinning that you will forget things.

Annotations are really useful because you can add little Post-it notes to your account


You can choose for your annotation to be shared, i.e you’re happy for  everyone who has access to the account to see it, or you can select private, so only you can see it.  Use it to log when you have a new launch, for example a new Twitter campaign or if you started using a new social channel. I like to also add industry specific changes,  for example Google changing its algorithm so I can quickly develop hypotheses on what has happened to my traffic.

annotations google

Number 3: Set your goals

This may seem very obvious but you need to establish your goals and estimates.  From teaching Google Analytics on a monthly basis, delivering private client training and doing Google Analytics Audit’s, we still find a high number of accounts that have no goals on the website! Shock horror I know. It is impossible for you to see how well your marketing is impacting the business if you don’t have anything to benchmark it against.

To help you along the way we’ve created a really cool goals guide here.

Number 4: Don’t forget about the little guys: Micro Conversions

When you think about your goals also consider micro conversions.  There will be a lot of meaningful interactions that fill in the gaps to your funnel. For example, sharing content via social media, watching a video, using live chat.

If you only track the big-hitting-my business-will die-if-these-objectives-don’t-happen goals,  then you are missing out on those smaller meaningful interactions.

Number 5: Use Events

Make sure you are using events, they really are wonderful! To use event tracking you do need to do some tinkering with your account,  I would recommend that you use Google Tag Manager to create your events. An example I really like is a Flora case study from a few years ago (I am paraphrasing my notes from seeing them present this case study) .Their website had a lot of content on it in the form of recipes, and they went to their agency and said “we have a bounce rate that is well over 80% we need to do something about it”. Instead of jumping up and down and thinking of expensive ways to improve the website the agency asked Flora “what is it that you’re wanting to achieve with this website”. They wanted better engagement, they wanted to make sure that people were reading and downloading these recipes. The agency had a look at Flora’s Google Analytics account to find that no events were being tracked.

flora event example

Now, a bounce rate is when a visitor only visits a page and doesn’t go to any other page on the website, or they click on an external link. It is possible to set your events to impact bounce rate so you’re saying to Google “hang on a second pickle there WAS  was a meaningful interaction on this page, be a doll and have it impact my bounce rate”.  In this case they started tracking how many people printed the page, scrolled all the way down to the bottom, emailed it to themselves or shared on social media .  After they set up their events the bounce rate dramatically reduced. So there wasn’t a problem after all. And now they have insights into how many people print recipes, share on social and email.  You can find your Event in Behavior> Events> Top Events.

Here is an example below from a client of mine.

events report

Number 6: Map your Micro and Macro conversions to RACE

Once you have identified all your macro and micro conversions,  map all of your goals from top to bottom – I personally like the Smart Insights RACE model. Do an audit and make sure that you are tracking everything. You can’t manage what you don’t measure.

Number 7: Custom Dimensions: the volume you didn’t know your data needed.  

Google Analytics comes pre-cooked with a number of super dimensions for you to report on.  It also gives you the option to add 20 custom dimensions to your account. As you are all a unique there are a lot a potential custom dimensions that you could use.

Imagine your Google Analytics account is a brick of wax,  imagine you want to add information through another dimension, and it is essentially a cup of oil, if you throw it on your brick of wax then it’s just going to slide right off.  For it to stick you need something to anchor into the wax, Google calls this a key. You have your data and google Analytics data which needs a link or key so that your data sticks.

If you do only one thing with your custom dimensions I recommend that you load all your marketing costs.  If you are familiar with the reporting interface you will see that AdWords will always pull the cost of your AdWord campaigns.

data import social media

Now, if you are doing any other paid campaigns for example paid social eg promoted Facebook posts,  sponsored tweets, then you should be creating a custom dimension for your cost data and the key here is going to be the source/medium.  By doing this you can start to track the return on investment and return on ad spend on all of the interactions on your website with regards to your social media.  Which I think is pretty cool.

Number 8: Segment for the win

I really do love a good segment,  drilling down into lots of “I wonder questions” you can slice and dice your visitors on your website to get those insights that drive growth for your business.  In the context of social media you want to be building segments to see what your visitors do that have arrived from your organic or paid social activities. If you have followed this checklist and created goals and events,  in most cases social isn’t a conversion driver from the get go, but by building segments you can see how it supports your business goals and drives engagement within your website.

For this example, I have created a test segment called Social Traffic where the medium contains social this has given me 145 users and 196 sessions.  All good? Well no actually because if I go to my acquisition and select social from my source medium I get 163 sessions.

segments social media

Why? You need to make sure you select the right filter sessions when you build your segment. So to make sure your numbers match when building your segments select: Filter Sessions.

Tagging mistakes and best practices

If you have gone through the Jill Quick check list, you now have an account that is tracking  all macro and micro conversions, you are using event tracking like a wizard and you are segmenting for the win. Question for you, are you tracking properly?  I have recently seen in Analytics audits a common mistakes where the company did not fully understand how Google processes your data. Added to this they had been tagging traffic incorrectly so their marketing efforts for paid and organic social media will be being thrown into a data man-draw and therefore it looks like social media had no impact because the numbers just weren’t there in the right report.

So let me back-up a little and just go over how Google records traffic.  Without any tagging Google records all traffic as:

Referral  websites that are not seen as a search engine

Organic these are Google recognised search engines

(None)  when there is a direct entry of a URL to a browser any traffic recorded with known as the medium will be recorded with direct as the source this is what has been happening with some social media sites when clicking on a link opens a browser with the URL in it.

social-in-acqNow to see this in your accounts, head to the Acquisition> Channels>  and click on ‘Social’ you should see a list of Social Networks, please note here that the dimension is not called ‘medium’ the dimension here is called  Social Network. If you add a secondary dimension and  select medium you will see that next to each social network the medium is recorded as referral.  There is no social medium value captured by default.

social ga

Getting your mediums and sources in order.

It is up to you to provide the right mediums and sources to inform Google on how to group your traffic if you do not tag, it gets messy and this is our job or you brief your agencies to do this for you.  You are in charge of making sure that your social traffic, (in fact, all of your marketing campaigns for that matter) are tracked otherwise Google will put it into Referral, or if it is a “Dark Social” example where the link triggers a browser to open with the URL then it will head to the Direct pile.

mediums and sources

Tagging Best Practices: How you should track using the URL builder.

Most marketers are aware of Google campaign URL Builder  but if you look at the examples that they provide I can see where people may get confused with what they should be using in each parameter.

Starting at the top with Campaign medium,  in addition to the three that Google use ( organic,  referral, none) you can add other custom mediums for example social, email, display, affiliate.

Campaign source  effectively means where does the link live for example, One of the biggest mistakes we see with Analytic audits and training is people put Twitter or Facebook for the Medium and social as a Source.

Our survey said….No. Please stop doing that.

Campaign name is one of the more straightforward because this is the name or the term that you’re using to specify that particular campaign for example “spring sale”.

Campaign terms  and Campaign content I like to think of as a “brucey bonus”. For my paid search I can add the keywords for example running + shoes  and in the campaign content I can add more information to help differentiate ads or links that point to the same URL . For example I may have two banners on a site and I want to differentiate between the two eg one was a skyscraper at the top, and the other a mid page unit at the bottom.

Let’s use an example. Let’s say you’re answering questions on Quora and driving traffic back to a blog post of yours. You would want to tag it like so:

Website URL: www.thecolouringindepartment/blog/google-analytics-tips

Campaign Source: quora

Campaign Medium: social

Campaign name: google-analytics-tips

It is critical that you maintain a company-wide tagging best practice policy,  you can call things whatever you like as long as it is consistent and you make sure that the mediums and sources always refer to the correct one.

Here is a great UTM tracking explainer for you to follow if you get a little stuck!

We also recommend recording all utm tags.

Social in the acquisition report

There are a few little quirks but you need to be aware of when looking at the various reports where social media data is populated.  First is in the acquisition channels report. Google actually separates Social and Referral data. So if you clicked on Social you would get the data for our social/referral sites, BUT if you clicked on Referral you get the non social traffic, so links on other sites. In my example here, you can see that Social = 55,029 sessions, and Referral = 9,541 sessions.

acq channels

Then, when you head over to Acquisition> Referrals the sessions are 64,570. This is because this reports adds up the Social and Referral data together.

social numbers

We actually prefer to use the Acquisitions > All Traffic> Channels report to see how social media campaigns are doing.  Now I know you can get this information in, but the reason why I don’t like this report is because I’m missing all those lovely metrics that I have at the top of my Acquisitions > All Traffic> Channels report.

The  Social >Network Referrals just shows me sessions, page views and average session duration and I need to know better metrics and also I don’t like the graph at the top because, if you notice, the y-axis values are not the same so it’s difficult to really understand the context of all sessions vs sessions via social media.


Understanding Google’s core reporting API

Before you think,  “hang on a second, how have we jumped from social quirks in the acquisition report to talking about Google’s API?” Well this is really important and it’s something that I only clicked onto about 2 years ago, and I wish I knew it sooner  because it affects how we report on the revenue that social media delivers.

Google has two core reporting API’s. The Default Channel Grouping API which is the one that powers everything north of the multi-channel funnel reports.

However, that isn’t true, because it slipped into the acquisition social reports.

Let Me Explain.

If I go to Acquisition>Channels>Social report  the revenue with this example is $1582.95.  Now this is powered by the Default Channel Grouping which works on the last click win model.


Now if I go to the acquisition> social> Conversions report, this says $2,193.61. What the feck is going on?Well, this report is actually powered by the Multi Channel Funnel API so the data here is on assisted and last click conversions.

social-conversionsWhat you also need to be aware of is that these two core reporting APIs treat Direct traffic differently.  If somebody came to your website and the first channel was social, then they arrived from email, and then Direct,  with the Default Channel Grouping API, Direct doesn’t get the credit, it actually goes to the last non-direct channel, so email (in this example) gets the last click win credit. The multi-channel funnel API doesn’t work in the same way, they would give the credit to Direct.

My advice here for marketers wanting to look at social media conversions is to focus on the Acquisition> Channels>Social report and when you want to look at assisted conversions dive into the multi-channel funnels report and look at assisted conversions for social media.

Tracking Paid Social

I don’t know many marketing teams that are not doing some sort of paid social media and or social retargeting. And if you are PAYING for these campaigns you want to know what you are getting for your money.  If you have followed my fundamental checklist and you are using the URL builder and have created a medium called “paid+social” or “retargeting” you may think, job done.

It isn’t.

Here is how Google defines its Default Channel Definitions. Have a close look…notice anything missing?

default channel groupings

Hold the phone Mary…… there is NO PAID SOCIAL OR RETARGETING IN HERE!

Now, you don’t want your data to go into that man-draw, so you need to do some tinkering to fix this. This is what you need to do to create a channel definition for Paid Social.


  • Head over to Admin> View> Channel Settings> Channel Groupings
  • Click on Default Channel Grouping
  • Select Define a new channel
  • Give it a name, eg Paid Social
  • Define the rules: using the drop down select medium,  matches regex ( this means it won’t be case sensitive) = paid social
  • You can give it a colour if you wish to make your reports look pretty
  • Hit ‘Done’

And that’s it.

However you need to be aware but these run in order so you want to put your more specific channels at the top and you’re more generic channels at the bottom.


Editing your default channel grouping will affect the way that Google processes your raw data, so be careful, and do this in a test view first and then when you’re happy roll it over into the reporting view that you want to use for your marketing reports.

Use your annotations to make a note of the day that you created a new channel,  and be aware that this will work from the day that you create them so you cannot use this to fix historical data.

If you are thinking “aw man, I could do with looking at this historically” well, you can look back at how paid social or paid retargeting worked historically when looking at assisted conversions, which I will talk about now.

Assisted Conversions and Social Media

We all know that most customers do not have a single step in their conversion path, if you only use the conversion data north of the Multi-Channel Funnel report, then you will be assigning the last marketing channel a customer touched before conversion as the Big Cheese.  This can result in cost per acquisition that guides investment at a point where most customers have already decided where to send their business.

I like to call the multi-channel funnels area the basement,  because it’s a part of the reporting people don’t really go. You know there is “this stuff down there” but you’re not really sure what to do with it. There are a few reports that are really insightful to show you how long it takes two people to convert, what is assisting in conversions, what are your top performing paths etc. So be brave, and head down to the basement.

In the context of understanding how social media is supporting your business objectives  you want to head over to the assisted conversions report Conversions> Multi channel Funnels> Assisted Conversions.  This report is going to show you how many interactions each marketing channel initiated,  assisted and completed. If you have an e-commerce site and you added a value to your goal when you created them then it will also show the value of assisted and last interaction conversions.

Remembering that Google does not have a section in its default channel grouping, well it is the same for the multi-channel funnel channel grouping. No defined channel for paid social or re-targeting.

If you are doing any paid social activity then you are also going to need to do something coming to the Channel Grouping session so you can attribute channels correctly.

There are two ways to do this, you can go into your admin settings and create a custom channel grouping although this is quite a long winded way of doing it and you have to start off from the bottom adding and creating every single channel.

There is an easier way. If you head over to the blue tab called Channel Groupings and then click on the drop down and select copy MCF channel grouping template.

Now repeat the same process that we did for all default channel grouping.

This is part of your personal tools and assets, and is only changing the way your current data has been processed and is displayed. So if you create this edited MCF channel and other people in your team or your clients do see this, then you are going to need to share this channel grouping that you have created. Provided you been correctly tagging,  you can look at historical data to see how social media from a paid perspective has been assisting your company objectives


  • You need to know why you are doing social media and what your business objectives and goals are
  • Get your analytics house in order, know the fundamentals and setup your Google Analytics account correctly
  • Make sure you are tagging correctly, keep a record, be consistent and let your teams or clients no how important it is to get your mediums and traffic sources  correct
  • Segment for the win – but make sure you select the right filter option
  • Google does not have paid social or re-targeting as part of its default channel grouping,  you are going to need to create a paid social or re-targeting channel
  • There are 2 core APIs used in Google Analytics, they treat Direct differently and the MCF
  • Use assisted conversions to see how social media assists in conversions
  • Create a copy of the MCF grouping and add a paid social or re-targeting channel to look back historically for that channel

If you want to know more about Social Reporting and Google Analytics, we have a number of free resources available here for you to download and get you started!

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