When you’re determining social media ROI, sometimes you’ve got to get your hands dirty. With data, of course.
Specifically, let’s talk about campaign variables. It’s an off-puttingly science-y name for a concept that’s really pretty simple: Tagging all the links you send out via social media channels to keep track of how they’re doing. The tags you add send specific data to Google Analytics that’ll help you analyze your social media performance. Want to know whether you should spend more time on Facebook or Twitter? Or if Pinterest is as good for traffic as everyone says? Campaign variables can help.
You can add these tags to all kinds of links, but social traffic is what we’ll be focusing on here. When should you use them? Pretty much always. To really see the patterns that will help you make smarter decisions, you’ll need to use unique campaign variables for every post that references your content on every channel where you’re active. It can be time-consuming, but the results are worth it.
As long as your site is set up with Google Analytics, you can get started right away. Here’s what you need to know.
How to Plan for Campaign Variables
Before you start building URLs, think through your strategy first. Google Analytics’ link tagging capabilities allow you to identify virtually anything you can think of, which is good news for all us social media managers with an ever-increasing number of channels to deal with. But it also means it’s important to stay organized.
First, lay out each social media platform you’re working with: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus, anywhere you’re actively posting content. You need this list because you’re going to create a unique and consistent campaign code for each channel.
Then, think about all the types of content you regularly send out on social media channels and determine the best ways to categorize them to study later on down the line. Your content buckets might include things like blog posts, press releases, contests, sales, special offers, linkbait, landing pages and more.
For reporting purposes, try to keep your buckets fairly big (i.e. don’t get down to the level of creating a campaign for each new blog post). This way, you can see the bigger picture later but also break them down into smaller segments if you want.
How to Build URLs for Campaign Variables
Now we’re ready to build some URLs using the lists we just created.
There are a few different spots you can go to for help with the process of building your URLs. Google offers a URL building tool, and so do third-party tools like GAConfig.com (full disclosure: this tool was built by Raven Tools, where I work), ROI Revolution, HubSpot and others.
Campaign Source: This is how the visitor got to your site. Your source will be the name of the social network you’re posting on, from our list of channels above.
Campaign Medium: The medium offers more information about the source. For our purposes, let’s make the medium something like “social” or “social media”. Choose one and stick with it across all channels.
Campaign Name: The campaign name is how you’ll identify the specific content, promotion or campaign the post was about. Your name will be whatever kind of content you’re posting, pulled from our list of content buckets above. For example, if your social media post was in reference to a one-day sale, your campaign name might be “one-day-sale.”
You should end up with something that looks like this: http://mystore.com/?utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=one-day-sale
As you build out your campaign variable, remember to be consistent. Stick with the same terms throughout, including capitalization and singular vs. plural. A difference of “Twitter” vs. “twitter”; “GPlus” vs. “GooglePlus”; or “blog” vs. “blogs” will make your results harder to find. If multiple members of your team are creating these URLs, you might want to create a chart everyone can consult.
All this can take some time, but a growing number of social media and Internet marketings tools allow you to add your campaign variables right through their interface, which can save you a significant amount of time.
How to Analyze Campaign Variables
OK, now the hard part is done and it’s time to see how you’re doing. All your great new data should start to show up within a day in Google Analytics. Navigate to Traffic Sources and then Campaigns. From the list you’ll see, look for the campaign names you assigned above as the “Name” element. Clicking on any campaign will show you the breakdown of visits each of your different social networks brought it for that campaign.
If you’re tracking goals for your site like conversions, sales, downloads or other behaviors, your campaign variables can take you all the way to a dollar figure.
Bonus tip: Once you’ve gotten consistent with tracking your URLs, you’ll begin to discover all sorts of new ways to use campaign variables. This is where the optional fields we left blank can come back into play. Why not consider some creative ways you could use them? For example, if you’re a fan of second-chance tweets (sending out the same link twice, a few hours apart, to account for different time zones and schedules) you might want to use one of those fields to differentiate the first and second tweet to see which version is more effective for you. As long as you’re consistent and clear on what you want to measure, how you use these fields is up to you.
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