How To Use UTM Codes To Improve Your Social Media Marketing
The ability to measure the ROI of a tactical social media marketing plan isn’t easy and it isn’t always quantitative. Most of the time it shouldn’t be. Much of the role social media marketing plays is in relationship building. It’s a way to connect with partners, others in your industry, and your customers. It’s about communication and connection.
As a social media marketing firm we will use anecdotal evidence as part of our reporting for clients;, but when we’re being paid in real dollars, our clients deserve real numbers. It’s not about a one- for- one return. They need to realize that social media marketing is not advertising. It’s an investment, not an expense. Still, we need to show them how what we are doing is working, that it is moving people through the sales funnel.
While impressions and engagement rates are great for showing how well we’ve cultivated a client’s audience (targeted, potential customers and clients) and how relevant/engaging to them the content we create is, it doesn’t show what we are doing to move them deeper through the sales cycle. For this, we rely on Google Analytics to track the traffic we drive to clients’ websites.
Google Analytics provides a simple way to show a client how our social media marketing efforts are moving potential customers deeper through the sales funnel.
The data in Google Analytics allows us to hand a client a report demonstrating how much traffic they are receiving directly from their social media platforms. While traffic levels aren’t directly tied to sales (that is still a function of site design/performance, their product or service being the right fit, and the effectiveness of their sales team), increased traffic SHOULD lead to increased revenue. At a bare minimum, it’s validation that our services are working effectively – what we need to show to continue to be paid.
Beyond keeping the client happy and paying our bill, we gain something more from the data available to us. The insights gained mean we know how to improve what we are doing for our clients. The same tool which allows us to show them the results we drive, also allows us to continually improve those results.
Using Google Analytics to improve results
Monitoring Google Analytics will provide a good indication of which social media profiles and pages are most effective for generating website traffic, but not which content is responsible for those click-throughs. There’s the additional complication that while one platform, say LinkedIn, drives the most traffic, the reason why isn’t clear. It could be a result of where you have developed better relationships. It may be where you have cultivated the best, most targeted audience.
But what if the traffic was a result of the quality of the post? How it was written? Maybe the traffic has to do with the subject of the content. Perhaps it’s a combination.
The point here is that while LinkedIn would seem to be where we should focus, we’d be basing our decision on a limited set of data points. Creating an effective social media marketing campaign requires more than a guess at where to focus. Being successful means understanding at a deeper level what content and platforms (or what content ON what platforms) provides the desired results. Once we have that information, we have the ability to specifically tailor what content we share, how it is shared, and on which platforms we share it.
Think about that for a minute.
A simple analogy
This is akin to a parent feeding a child who is a picky eater. As a parent, we can pay no attention to what we are serving, how it’s plated, or the day it’s served….and it will always be a battle to get them to eat. Or we can monitor what we are serving, how it’s arranged on the plate (don’t let the peas touch the chicken!), and when we serve it. Pay attention to those details and a pattern will develop. Fine tune that pattern and suddenly our children are eating without a fuss every single time they are served.
Each meal generates the desired result.
There is a way to do the same with social media content – that paying attention will allows for the creating consistent web traffic. Post. Get results.
While it is unlikely that every piece of social content will deliver even when having the formula perfect, having that formula exponentially increases the chances of success for each post.
The single best tool to help isolate which content hits its mark are Urchin Tracking Module (UTM) codes.
Sticking with LinkedIn, a typical tweet designed to drive traffic to a client’s page on their latest product would include this link:
When the link is clicked, Google Analytics will report that as social traffic and further show it came from LinkedIn. That is ideal for reporting to the client as to how well LinkedIn (and the content we create) is performing, but we can do better.
The social acquisition report will lump all traffic from LinkedIn under one line. A single overall number of visits, unique visits and new vs returning visitors. It will provide only an overall bounce rate, session time, etc.
We want to be able to tailor exactly which posts are driving traffic, which ones are driving the most effective traffic, and determine WHY.
UTM codes append a custom string of data to each link shared. This data allows us to pinpoint the specifics as to the traffic source and the additional data we want.
The link when shared now looks like this:
(Yes, it is longer. Part of the process in creating these links requires they be shortened. We’ll get there below in discussing HOW to create them)
When this link is clicked, rather than Google Analytics lumping it in with every other one, it will be isolated. Under the acquisition report, in additional to organic, direct, social, referral, and email traffic sources, there will be a listing called ‘other’.
Expanding this category, we’ll still get our overall social site data (since we use the social network as the ‘source’ in our code: utm_source=linkedin).
Clicking on ‘linkedin’ to isolate only links click on this platform and then adding the secondary dimension for medium under acquisition (red arrow), we get a very specific look at WHICH posts (since we use the post name for the medium: utm_medium=slopeshield%20sa%20plus&utm_campaign=vaproshield; red box) are responsible for the traffic.
This provides us a very detailed look at the content driving traffic. It both adds to our client reports (more thorough) and studying the results over time will allow us to determine why some posts work better than the others (time of day, day of the week, the words/phrases/hashtags used). This data can then be used to create our formula for driving traffic consistently from LinkedIn.
Repeating the process for each social network will enable us to see what content resonates better on each platform and how to tailor it to their audience. (why cross posting is bad – if you haven’t read our article on it yet).
We can ultimately create a perfect blueprint for how to drive traffic consistently from each of our (or a client’s) social media pages.
Creating the UTM codes
There are a number of tools available but 3 standout to us for a variety of reasons:
Campaign URL Builder
Google’s Campaign URL Builder tool is free and easy to use while allowing short links.
Enter the URL you want tracked, then add in your ‘source’ and ‘medium’.
What you choose to use for each as long as one is the social network and the other identifies your specific post. The other requirement is that you are consistent.
(Our preference given Google Analytics defaults is to use the social network for the source and the post identifier for the medium.)
At the bottom the full link with tracking data will be populated. While you can copy and paste the code, it will look a bit messy/spammy your post. We highly recommend you sign up for a Bit.ly (free) and authorize Google to use it. This will give you a short, prettier URL.
That long link above:
While we have a dislike for scheduling in general, automation when used properly is quite useful. We like Hootsuite for a variety of reasons (mostly because it does exactly what we need at a great price), but the best feature – we can add UTM codes to any link AND shorten them to look pretty.
The big plus is that we can create the codes as part of creating the post, so it’s a bit more efficient. Of course, there is a cost to use Hootsuite.
Using Hootsuite to track and shorten links is easy with the new composer.
Select your social network, add in the content for your post and the link you want clicked. Then click ‘Add Tracking’.
Click the down arrow on ‘Shortener’ and choose Ow.ly, then click the down arrow for ‘Tracking’ and select ‘Google Analytics’.
The 2 pieces of data to be filled in are ‘source’ and ‘medium’. And yes, change the source from Hootsuite!!
When done, click ‘Apply’.
Now you can post or schedule and your content will have a fully trackable link. The only difference here, the short link will using Hootsuite’s Ow.ly shortener instead of Bit.ly.
This is neat little tool we found about a year back. UTM.io offers a website which provides a host of advanced options (we never use them), but it’s the Chrome extension we love. The beauty here – clicking the extension automatically grabs the URL we are on AND with a custom pre-formatted templates, it will auto-populate the rest of the fields (campaign, medium, source). You can manually enter them as well if preferred. Plus, it’s free! (There are paid plans which offer more features if you choose to go that route.)
Install the extension and when you are on a page you’d like to share with tracking data, click it!
The extension will open allowing you select your pre-formatted template (update your source and medium) or manually enter them. Then click ‘Shorten’ (you’ll need your Bit.ly account and to configure it, though it does take an extra step).
Once you do, you’ll be prompted to click ‘Copy’ for adding to your post.
The biggest benefit to using UTM.io for us, we can quickly shorten links for use in places other than when creating content to publish on our pages and profiles. It’s more efficient than to open another tab for Bit.ly and while we can use Hootsuite, it’s best for sharing content to social sites.
This is perfect when commenting on posts, sending emails, within online forum….and each time we change the source to better isolate exactly where we get our traffic
UTM Codes…. A bit of work, worth the time
UTM tracking codes are essential for us. The extra time to create them is well worth it when we obtain better data for reporting to our clients. They allow us to isolate and better understand where client website traffic is originating to improve social media marketing results.
Yes, you can be effective without it, bit using them, you can be more efficient.
An added bonus to using UTM codes:
Getting more out of using UTM codes
While the big goal here was to show how to use UTM tracking codes to isolate and better understand where YOUR traffic is originating to improve your social media marketing, there is a side bonus.
Whenever we link out to another site from a client’s website, each link includes a tracking code. We’ll set the source as the client’ website URL and the medium as the specific page or post slug.
Why? If you click on an external link, like the one to UTM.io above, in their Google Analytics data, our referral will be listed under ‘other’ in the acquisition report rather than under ‘referral’. This will help us stand out as a referral source and provide them where the link to them appeared on our client’s site.
This makes UTM codes are a great influencer marketing tool!
If you want to take this a step further….
Using UTM codes for brand marketing
Regardless of how we create trackable links, each is tidied up using a link shortening service – either ow.ly or bit.ly in our examples:
However, when using bit.ly through either UTM.io or Google’s campaign builder, there is the option of using your own custom short domain. This allows branding of shortened links.
Since we have tso.media as a custom short domain linked to our bit.ly account, links shortened for our external links and those showing on social media posts look like this:
Not only are our links trackable, they are branded as well.
To learn more about creating and setting up your custom short domain, Ana Hoffman has a great tutorial at Traffic Generation Cafe and my friend Dustin Stout has an in-depth article on Custom Short URLs for Social Media: What, Why, and How.
1) We only focused on the source and medium when creating UTM codes and ignored the campaign option. We normally do not use the campaign option due to the way Google Analytics reports data for acquisition (what we want). Had we chosen to add these links to an email or send then via a source like Facebook Messenger or text messaging, we’d update the source to reflect where we added the links.
There is a benefit to using the campaign feature to track specific social media campaigns (we are running 3 for a client and do add the campaign name), but it’s not entirely necessary.
2) While we wrote this as a marketing piece (this is something which differentiates us from the average social media marketing firm), we’d love to see others do the same.
For those doing their own posting, what we have detailed above is equally valuable. You are essentially hiring yourself.