It’s not difficult to track social media marketing efforts, but I haven’t seen many organizations doing it well. Here's a four step approach to social media campaign monitoring.

Tracking Social Media Links as Campaigns

Before I lay out step-by-step instructions, here’s a story that gives me hope for the future.

At the X Change conference held last September, I sat in on a very popular social media analytics discussion; there were about 20 Web analytics practitioners in the room from a variety of large enterprises. At a certain point our conversation turned toward measuring ROI. The room grew quiet except for one voice.

I can tell you exactly how well social media is working for us,” said an individual -- who shall remain nameless -- representing a major consumer brand. He pulled up a Web analytics report on his smartphone and stated, “Here’s a Twitter campaign we ran last month that generated $23,000 in revenue."

He was able to make this claim precisely because his company tracks their social media links as campaigns. If you want similar bragging rights for your own company, just follow this 4-step process:

Step 1: Tag

First, append campaign codes to the URL you plan to post on social media platforms. Follow your company’s campaign coding standards if an established policy exists. Treat social media just as you would more traditional channels like email and banners.

If you’re planning to post on multiple platforms, I recommend creating one campaign code for each platform. For instance, make a unique code for Twitter, a unique code for Facebook, a unique code for LinkedIn and so on for each intended destination.

Step 2: Shrink

Short links are easier to share, so pass each of your tagged links through a URL shortener like bit.ly or goo.gl. There’s also an opportunity to collect stats at this step. See my related blog post on URL shorteners with analytics.

Step 3: Post

Once you have a set of tagged short links, go out and post them on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.

Although these first 3 steps may seem tedious, there are some opportunities for automation. For instance, if you use Hootsuite you can tag, shrink and post within a single interface, since campaign coding and URL shortening are built directly into the tool.

I've also seen companies build simple tools from scratch that allow them to automate tagging and shrinking their URLs, they then grab the links and post them manually. The choice is up to you -- just find a process your team can live with.

Step 4: Analyze

Now sit back and wait for data. By default your Web analytics tool will give you visit volume for each of the campaign codes that you’ve used. Beyond that, assuming you’re tracking your site’s goal behaviors -- purchases, downloads, form submissions, video views -- you’ll be able to see the downstream impact of your social campaigns.

In the story I told at the beginning of this post, the company uses their Web analytics tool to track purchases on their commerce site, so they’re able to connect the dots between campaigns to revenue.

If campaign tracking is new territory for you, I recommend that you read your Web analytics vendor’s documentation on this topic. Although social media may not be mentioned specifically, think of it as just another campaign channel. Also, here’s a great step-by-step Google Analytics example and a related post from the Omniture blog.

Since it’s possible to get basic click-through stats from popular URL shorteners like bit.ly, some people may question whether it’s necessary to append campaign codes at all. Here’s the clincher: URL shorteners track clicks but they do not tie to downstream goal behaviors. If you’re serious about connecting social media efforts to outcomes, you must track links as campaigns.

Three Great URL Shorteners with Analytics

URL shorteners trim down regular links so they can be shared more easily on Twitter and other social media platforms. My favorite side benefit of URL shorteners is that every link click can be tracked as it's redirected to its final destination. Not all URL shorteners actually offer analytics though, so if you need tracking you must choose wisely. To help you along, I recommend these 3 URL shorteners with analytics:

1. Bit.ly

It's the Twitter default, and therefore very popular. Full-featured analytics are available to whoever creates a short URL and any other person who cares to look. The trick to seeing stats for any bit.ly link --add a "+" sign at the end of the short URL (for example, http://bit.ly/djG9TM becomes http://bit.ly/djG9TM+). Bit.ly also offers a Pro account with an enhanced dashboard for private use by link publishers.

  • Best for you if: you want to stick with a popular choice and you don't mind sharing your stats with the world.
  • Site: bit.ly

bit.ly.png

Bit.ly Link Analytics Screenshot

2. cli.gs

This URL shortener has many of same features as bit.ly, but stats for URLs are not public. In other words, you must be logged in to view your own stats, and you cannot view stats for URLs you did not create. Another differentiator -- cli.gs displays geo-location data as a map overlay rather than a chart -- nice if you're a "visual" person.

  • Best for you if: you need full-featured analytics and privacy
  • Site: cli.gs

clig.png

Cli.gs Link Analytics Screenshot 

3. ow.ly

This tool takes on the problem from a different angle -- the URL shortener and the associated reporting interface are embedded within Hootsuite, a social network management client. It takes a bit of work to set up an account and learn how to use it, but the stats are really well done. You get analytics for individual messages as well as a summary roll-up. Another very useful feature -- an optional form helps you append campaign codes to your URLs before you shorten them.

Best for you if: you're looking a comprehensive system for managing posts OR you want help appending tracking codes as you shorten URLs.
Site: hootsuite.com

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 Hootsuite Link Analytics Screenshot

These 3 tools are my top picks. For a more complete review of URL shorteners (both with and without analytics), Danny Sullivan's  has an informative post. Check it out here.