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Marketers turn to analytics to determine engagement performance on a given social media platform. But this is just a first step. Comparing social media referral traffic to a site or app is a necessary second step. Doing so helps to determine where a social media budget may be best spent.

All of these steps are also critical when managing an online crisis in social media. Social media is an essential component to customer engagement, but messages are also susceptible to customer sentiment. I have written previously about some of the pitfalls in this area in, "Tips for Avoiding and Managing Costly Branding Associations." So brands must use analytics to assess that exposure and help it to plan how resources are allocated for digital media.

Know Your Social Media Channels' Reach

An example here is Tiki Brands, a torch manufacturer that had to respond when images of its torches in the hands of Neo-Nazi protesters appeared during the infamous Charlottesville rally in 2017. Tiki Brands disassociated itself from the tragic event on its Facebook page because that page had significantly more followers than its other media.

Placing the immediate message in front of the largest audience means significantly more people become aware of its response message. Knowing your social media breakdown aids your decision in which resource is used for a response.

You will likely need to make a quick comparison. To do this, marketers should find the social media reports in their analytics solution. In Google Analytics, for example, marketers navigate to the Acquisition section in the menu and select “Social.” The Social segment contains several reports that highlight social media related traffic against sessions.

The Overview report can tell you what percentage of traffic is attributed to social media. This is a good starting point to establish how much of your brand exposure comes from social media traffic. If your site is seeing 30% or more from social media, then you have a basis for establishing how social media activity impacts your brand.

The report is also designed to compare against conversion activity — the number of visits in which visitors complete a desired tasks like a sign up or purchase. Comparing conversion activity is usually helpful for determining which referral traffic sources should receive more (or less) investment based on its proportional value to conversions. You can also use that comparison to plan which social media response will potentially impact what you value. If online ecommerce sales conversions are higher on Twitter versus Facebook, then your crisis team should develop messaging that leverages Twitter to best place communications in front of online customers.

Related Article: Social Media Marketing: Looking Beyond Reach

Diving Deeper Into Google Analytics Social Reporting

The Network Referrals report is also useful. It graphs referral traffic that arrived via a social media platform against overall traffic. It also displays a table with the number of social media sources against sessions, page views, pages/sessions, and average session time. Marketers can use the network referrals graph to determine which social media is sending the most traffic to your site or app. The choice of social media can direct marketers towards which platforms should receive the most focus for a message, particularly in a time of crisis.  


A tree map, a collection of squares sized according to a metric, can give a hierarchical view of one social media platform versus another. A calculated metric in the report is used as the basis for comparison. 

To view a treemap, navigate again to the Acquisition menu, and then select All Traffic, and then TreeMap. The report will show a treemap of referral traffic by sessions. You can then click on the Social dimension to view a treemap comparing each social media referral source. It will look like the image below.

You can change the default selections for dimensions and metrics in the upper right hand corner — the first selection is the dimension, the second is a metric choice (which is usually a calculated metric, like a percentage or ratio). You’ll find these selections mimic the dimensions and metrics in the report table. But the differentiation between square sizes provide a fast visual to compare social media platforms.

At this point I usually recommend clients to examine the data against different time periods. For crisis you will want to mark a before and after event date to see if there is a difference in your referral traffic. You can journal dates by annotating on the reports. The annotation include a text box for adding a date, a description and a choice to keep an annotation visible to only a few account managers. This feature was originally developed for a diagnostic, but it appears at a given date, giving users a reporting aid for comparing potential referral traffic changes during an inflection point.

Related Article: Marketing in a Time of Crisis

Improve Your Communications With Targeted Messaging  

Knowing how your social media traffic impacts your site or app can certainly enhance your marketing budget decisions. But it can also provide clear guidance on which resources are best used to respond to a crisis. Using these kinds of analytics reports will improve the effectiveness and efficiency of your crisis response.