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Google Analytics 4: Analyzing Your Social Media Referral Traffic and Campaigns

Social media has emerged as a potent force for driving word-of-mouth marketing and referral traffic to websites for some industries and strategies. Social media platforms aren’t limited to sharing personal experiences and connecting with friends; they’re also a legitimate source of traffic and prospects for businesses. Utilizing analytics to track social media referred traffic to your site is critical to realize whether your investment is paying off:

  • Organic Social Media Referral Traffic – Feeding your audience or engaging in a community on social media can require a lot of resources. While the effort may improve your brand’s visibility, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s paying off in actual acquisition and retention.
  • Paid Social Media Referral Traffic – Social media platforms provide rich, sophisticated advertising platforms for targeting and reaching prospective customers. That said, understanding which ad campaigns and what segments and strategies are driving real revenue is critical.

The bridge between tracking a visitor referred through a social media channel and whether or not they convert into a customer for your company lies in Google Analytics 4 (GA4). There have been several changes to social media reporting between Universal Analytics (UA) and GA4:

  • Event-based data collection: GA4 is an event-based platform, meaning all user interactions are tracked as events. This includes social media interactions, such as clicks, likes, and shares. In UA, social media interactions were tracked as separate hit types.
  • Social media channel groups: GA4 has two default channel groups for social media: organic social and paid social. This makes tracking and comparing performance from different social media channels and campaigns easier. In UA, social media traffic was all reported in the same channel.
  • Predictive analytics: GA4 uses machine learning (ML) to generate predictive analytics, such as predicted churn rate and predicted revenue. These insights can be used to improve your social media marketing strategies. UA did not have predictive analytics capabilities.
  • Cross-platform reporting: GA4 can track users across multiple devices and platforms, including websites, apps, and offline interactions. This allows you to get a more complete view of the customer journey. UA could only track users on websites.
  • Privacy-focused design: GA4 is designed with privacy in mind. It does not collect any personally identifiable information (PII) by default. UA could collect PII, but this was optional.

The ROI on Social Media Marketing

Before delving into the capabilities of GA4, let’s explore why social media is vital for businesses. Social media platforms have become hubs of activity, with millions of users sharing, liking, and engaging with content daily. This presents a tremendous opportunity for businesses to tap into this user base and generate word-of-mouth referrals.

Social media drives word-of-mouth through shares, comments, and mentions. Users often discuss products, services, and experiences on these platforms. A glowing review or recommendation from one user can quickly spread to hundreds or even thousands of others. As a result, social media can be a significant driver of referral traffic to your website.

To understand the ROI of your social media efforts, it’s crucial to measure various key performance indicators (KPIs), such as:

  1. Traffic Acquisition: GA4 excels in tracking social media traffic to your website. It quantifies the number of visits, page views, and conversions from each social platform. This enables you to assess the effectiveness of your social media marketing in driving visitors to your site.
  2. Engagement: Social media isn’t just about bringing traffic; it’s about bringing engaged traffic. GA4 helps you analyze metrics like bounce rate, average session duration, and pages per session. You can identify which social media platforms drive your website’s most engaged users.
  3. Conversions: GA4 allows you to track conversions originating from social media, be it e-commerce purchases, lead submissions, or sign-ups. This data reveals which social platforms effectively convert visitors into customers or leads.
  4. Audience Insights: Social media platforms provide a wealth of demographic information. GA4 can tap into this data, giving you insights into your social media audience, including age, gender, and location. It also tells you which platforms are attracting the most valuable traffic.

Advanced Social Media Analysis with GA4

GA4 doesn’t stop at basic metrics. It offers advanced features for in-depth social media analysis:

  1. Path Exploration: This feature allows you to trace the journey of users on your website. You can see the sequence of pages they visit, both before and after coming from social media. Understanding this user behavior is invaluable for tailoring your content and navigation to their preferences.
  2. Funnel Analysis: By using funnel analysis, you can track how users progress through specific conversion funnels, like a checkout or lead generation process. This reveals where users drop out, enabling you to optimize your funnel and improve conversion rates.
  3. Attribution Modeling: Attribution modeling helps you assign credit for conversions to different traffic sources, including social media. It offers a comprehensive view of how your social media marketing efforts contribute to your overall business goals.

Putting GA4 Social Media Reporting to Work

Here are practical examples of how to use GA4 for social media analysis:

  • Identify Valuable Platforms: Use GA4’s traffic acquisition report to discover which social media platforms drive the most traffic and the engagement report to find the most engaged platforms.
  • Analyze User Behavior: Employ the path exploration feature to understand how social media users navigate your website and discover which content appeals to them.
  • Track Conversions: Set up conversion events in GA4 to track conversions from social media. This helps you identify the most effective platforms for converting visitors into customers or leads.
  • Measure Campaign Impact: Utilize GA4’s attribution modeling to gauge your social media campaigns’ impact accurately. This insight is essential for optimizing your marketing strategy.

By using GA4, you can gain valuable insights into the performance of your social media marketing efforts, facilitating data-driven decisions and continuous improvement. Want to dive deeper into building out and reporting on social media? Don’t miss this fantastic resource:

Loves Data: Tracking Social With Google Analytics 4

UTM Campaign URL Tracking Is Critical for Social Media Tracking

GA4 determines if a Referral channel is social media by using a variety of factors, including:

  • The referring URL: GA4 will check the referring URL to see if it is a known social media platform. For example, if the referring URL is, then GA4 will attribute the visit to the Facebook social media channel.
  • The user agent string: GA4 can also use the user agent string to identify the type of device and browser the user uses and the social media platform they use, if any.

Let’s examine this more closely. Many users (like myself) dislike the platform browsers built into many social media mobile apps. When I see a link on a social media platform, I often copy it and paste it into a new browser window. Without campaign tracking, that’s recorded as a direct visit to my site, not a referred visit.

UA allowed you to modify your channel settings and set a rule that any visitor arriving with specific UTM parameters could be attributed as a social media referral. That doesn’t exist in GA4, so if you want to measure your social media efforts, you should ensure every link you distribute has UTM campaign tracking. This will enable you to report accurately via campaign reporting rather than GA4’s means of determining a social media referral.

My recommendation is to standardize utm_medium=social and use utm_source to specify the platform name, while utm_campaign can be used to differentiate between paid, profile link, organic, etc.

  • Source refers to the origin of the traffic. In the case of social media, the source would be the social media platform, such as Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.
  • Medium refers to the type of traffic. In the case of social media, the medium would be social.

Here are examples:

  1. Organic Social Media Post:
  • utm_source: Identifies the source as the social media platform (e.g., Facebook).
  • utm_medium: Specifies the medium as “social” to indicate it’s from social media.
  • utm_campaign: Names the campaign as “organic-post.”
  1. Paid Social Media Ad:
  • utm_source: Identifies the source as the social media platform (e.g., Instagram).
  • utm_medium: Specifies the medium as “social” to indicate it’s from social media.
  • utm_campaign: Names the campaign as “paid-ad.”
  1. Social Media Profile Link:
  • utm_source: Identifies the source as the social media platform (e.g., LinkedIn).
  • utm_medium: Specifies the medium as “social” to indicate it’s from social media.
  • utm_campaign: Names the campaign as “profile-link.”
  1. Shared Content on LinkedIn:
  • utm_source: Identifies the source as the social media platform (e.g., LinkedIn).
  • utm_medium: Specifies the medium as “social” to indicate it’s from social media.
  • utm_campaign: Names the campaign as “organic-post.”
  1. Influencer Collaboration:
  • utm_source: Identifies the source as the social media platform (e.g., Instagram).
  • utm_medium: Specifies the medium as “social” to indicate it’s from social media.
  • utm_campaign: Names the campaign as “influencer-collab.”

Douglas Karr

Douglas Karr is CMO of OpenINSIGHTS and the founder of the Martech Zone. Douglas has helped dozens of successful MarTech startups, has assisted in the due diligence of over $5 bil in Martech acquisitions and investments, and continues to assist companies in implementing and automating their sales and marketing strategies. Douglas is an internationally recognized digital transformation and MarTech expert and speaker. Douglas is also a published author of a Dummie's guide and a business leadership book.

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