Studying Social Traffic

Nothing has had a bigger impact on the future of the Web than social media. Seemingly overnight, everyone on the Internet was closely connected, both to one another and to all of the businesses operating in cyber space.

For Web marketers, social media provided a brand new way to engage and interact with online consumers, helping them to improve their visibility and extend their reach without spending much money (if any at all). However, one thing that website owners weren't prepared for was what to do with all of the new traffic they would be getting, and how they could analyze that data to improve their websites and social media marketing campaigns to make each of them more effective.

Establish Goals

Like any successful endeavor, the first step to leveraging social media analytics is to know what you want to get out of it and devise a plan. This means defining measureable, actionable key performance indicators (KPIs) - you should even go as far as defining specific KPIs for each social network you're on that may drive traffic to your site - and then select metrics that will translate into the context of your business and address the unique goals you've established.

Collect & Configure

Once you know what you want to look for, it's time to begin collecting and configuring your social media traffic. Start by separating your social media traffic so that you can look specifically at each site that is sending you visitors, meaning you can study Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or other traffic sources on their own. After segmenting your social traffic, you should add event tracking for social media, campaign tracking to URLs and tracking to measure interactions and responses.

To do this, optimize or adjust your existing analytics software to be social media-compliant by including social media metrics plugins, setting up social media-centric campaigns and events, reorganizing your admin dashboards and setting up email reports - or a combination of all of these. You could also add new analytics tools with more detailed social metrics, such as, SocialToo, SiteTrail and even the new Social Reports feature from Google Analytics.

Unfortunately, there isn't really a single solution on the market right now that can provide everything you need to study your social media analytics (although they're getting closer), meaning for now, you'll have to aggregate your own analytics. Since you'll likely be dealing with a lot of loose data, gather all of it into a spreadsheet (recommended), PDF file, email or whatever system works best for you, so that you can have all of the data together in one easily accessible area.

Analyze & Evaluate

Now that you have all of this data culled together, it's time to make sense of it all. In order to best analyze and glean valuable insights from the information, you should do five things:

1. Understand the metrics you're studying
2. Examine referring traffic
3. Review your content for quality and relevance
4. Look at your share of voice
5. Track the total size of your social communities and engagement numbers

Social media presents a number of new types of metrics that are foreign to traditional website analytics. This can include quantitative data (likes, rewteets or page views), profile data (followers, fans), qualitative data (user information, comment/response sentiments), loyalty data (brand mentions, comment content) and activity data (post views, interactions and interaction times, tweet/post structure and CTR, number of clicks and much more). If you want any of this to mean anything, you need to have an idea of what each metric is telling you and how that information impacts your goals; and don't forget, a lot of social media data is anecdotal, meaning it can't be easily measured in the same way as data like CTRs or time-on-site.

Paying attention to your referring traffic from specific social media sources lets you see which of your social media properties are most valuable in terms of sending visitors to your site. This allows you to discover the social media campaigns that are most effective, while also highlighting those that could use a little more work.

But after you've looked at where the visitors come from, it's important to look at the quality and relevance of the content you use in your social media marketing campaigns to see what kind of impact it has on driving traffic to your site. You can do this by separately monitoring the page views for a specific type of content; the number of visitors to each page, how much time they spend on it and which social avenues it appeared on are all good indicators of what users on different social networks are interested in, which can help you post the most relevant, useful content on the right social media sites to drive traffic and increase engagement.

The share of voice is the number of conversations that social media users are having about your brand and your direct competitors. You can calculate this figure by dividing the number of conversations about or mentions of your brand by the total number of conversations about your industry (tools like Radian6 and SocialMention are useful for this). This helps you assess the value of online customers and prospect interactions on social networks.

Finally, you should always keep track of the total size of your social community (or communities), as well as your engagement numbers. This allows you to monitor growth and engagement levels to uncover how successful your social efforts have been in attracting quality traffic to your site. To track this data, integrate a social CRM tool with customer data and social profiles.

Revise & Engage

Once you've collected and labored over all of that hard social media data, it's time to do something with all of your new insights! In other words, it's time to actually analyze your work.

Take the time to identify your best- and worst-performing metrics and then figure out what you can do to improve them. Is the content you're posting engaging enough? Are you posting too often? Do you respond to users fast enough? Is one type of content more successful on Facebook than Twitter, or vice versa? What kind of content are your most successful competitors posting? And, perhaps most importantly, are the goals you've set for yourself realistic and achievable?

As you answer these (and many other) questions, you should start to see patterns and solutions emerging. You'll also find out which social media sites are the most valuable to your brand. Once you know what your audience is looking for, and where they're looking for it, use that information to engage them further.