How to Use UTM Tracking on Social Media.

Conversion tracking is easier than it sounds.
Jeffrey Gomez
June 19, 2018 - 8 min. read

As a digital marketer at a social media management software company, I work closely with social media managers from a variety of brands.

Despite having a range of workflows and marketing goals, all the SMMs I hear from express the need to use UTM tracking or some kind of conversion tracking for their social campaigns.

Specifically, we are often asked about our Google Analytics integration and how exactly it works. In short, our integration allows social media marketers to measure the effectiveness of their campaigns by evaluating the traffic from the originating post to their website.

In this article, we’ll introduce UTM parameters, UTM codes, and how social media marketers can use them to reap the benefits of proper UTM tracking. Our Falcon platform allows you to track all your social media campaigns, but it’s imperative that you use UTM parameters to track success outside of each social network.

First off, what are UTM parameters and UTM codes?

UTMs are query strings added to a URL. The abbreviation UTM stands for Urchin Tracking Module.

Fun(ish) fact: Urchin was a software company purchased by Google in 2005. This company would later become Google Analytics. You may already be familiar with UTM parameters if you enable auto-tagging in Google AdWords.

You can also use this Google Analytics tool to add UTM tracking to your URLS.

There are five parameters you can add to your URLs. Here’s Google’s description of each of the parameters: Source, Medium, Campaign Name, Term, Content.

What do you use them for?
utm_source: Identify the social network, etc. that is sending traffic to your property, for example: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn.
utm_medium: The advertising or marketing medium, for example: cpc, banner, email newsletter or social.
utm_campaign: The individual campaign name, slogan, promo code, etc. for a product.
utm_term: Identify paid search keywords. If you’re manually tagging paid keyword campaigns, you should also use utm_term to specify the keyword.
utm_content: Used to differentiate similar content, or links within the same copy. For example, if you have two different tweets linking to the same page, you can use utm_content and set different values for each so you can tell which tweet is more effective.

A sample URL with UTM parameters for tracking looks like this:

Remember, all UTM parameters are added after the question mark (?) and separated by an “&” sign. It’s also important to note that UTM parameters are case-sensitive, so keeping a naming convention is important. In a social media post, if shortened, it will look like this:

Advanced tip:
You can use master UTM tracking codes, “utm_id=”, to clean up the URL. You can learn more about campaign data and importing data into Analytics here.

UTM_Source: “Twitter”
In the above example, we have the source of this session coming from our Twitter page. Remember, the source is the social network or location that is sending traffic to your website.

UTM_Medium: “social”
The Medium is “social” because we want it to fall under Google’s default channel grouping regular expression, meaning it falls under a certain bucket as outlined below. Google groups all social traffic under the following rules:

Social Source Referral exactly matches Yes
Medium matches regex ^(social|social-network|social-media|sm|social network|social media)$

In basic terms, if someone posts your link to a social page without tracking, it will list the network as a Referral. That means it is grouped under social.

If the tracking matches either social, social-network, social-media, etc., it will also be included under social. This can easily be changed in your Admin settings if, for example, your brand uses a different naming convention internally.

UTM_Campaign: “product_page”
Going back to the link in the example, we’re making “product_page” the parameter because we’re sending you to one of our product pages. If my campaign’s goal were to send you to a handbook download page in order to download the handbook, it could be, “ebook-download” as the keyword.

If I want to see how well these pages perform – and judge whether we could potentially convert this social media traffic to customers – this is where I could evaluate them.

UTM_ Term and UTM_Content: “analytics” and “image”
Finally, we have utm_term and utm_content. In reality, this is more useful for paid campaigns such as in search where the fields can be dynamically inserted based on the user’s search term. For example, if you were to click on a ad, you probably searched for the term, “social analytics tool.” In this case, the utm_term would be {social analytics tool}.

If you’re replying to a customer on social media through a comment or direct message they left on your page, you can identify that here. Content can be used to identify additional details in the corresponding tweet or direct message. It’s not necessary to use both Term and Content parameters.

However, using these additional parameters is helpful when reviewing data because they add context to certain elements from your social media activity. For social media you can use a video, gif, image, audio, etc. if you want to show that you used any of those in the corresponding post.

URL shorteners:
The beauty of UTM parameters is that they do so much for your marketing campaigns. But, then again, they also fill up your recipient’s URL box. This is where URL shorteners come in. For example, the Falcon platform has a URL shortener tool built in where you can input any link then customize the URL path to your liking, depending on its availability.

When using our Publish tool to post and schedule social media tweets/posts, the tracking templates will automatically be added to your URL, so there is no need to create them every time. URL links are case-sensitive but have no bearing on your tracking. However, it does give you some room to make your URL look clean.

Quick tip: Customize your URL to whatever page you’re sending a recipient to. For example, if you’re running a giveaway, give your URL path a name like short.url/giveaway.

Be aware that URL shorteners can end your URL at any time. There have been a few URL shorteners over the years that have stopped their service completely – which means your shortened URLs no longer work. Furthermore, some URL shorteners pass off ads to the user before or while they’re browsing the intended page.

And lastly, some services don’t pass the UTM parameters, but simply keeping to Twitter,  Google, or Falcon’s shortener works fine.

What happens if you don’t use UTM tracking parameters?
If you’ve ever been inside Google Analytics, you’ll notice that most of your traffic is coming from the source / medium as Direct. Typically, one assumes that means a user manually typed in your web address.

There are actually too many reasons to name where (direct) / (none) would appear in your reports. There are a million ways to get to a website, further providing reason to track as many of your campaigns as possible.

However, for social media campaigns, you’re mostly posting to Facebook, Twitter, and/or LinkedIn. In these cases, you’ll see them as referred traffic. Referred traffic is when a link is posted to another domain and that domain carries into your Analytics tool.

Google does a good job of posting Social Referral traffic into the correct channel in its grouping. This doesn’t actually mean that you’ll be able to correctly track how your posts are doing on social. You may have certain posts that outdo others.

Posting a link from one network to another
Imagine someone takes one of your tweets and shares it to their Facebook page. How do you know which channel to attribute the interaction to?

If you don’t use UTM tracking, Facebook will get the credit even though it was first seen on Twitter. Using tracking with the correct parameters will allow Twitter to get the credit for it. Proper attribution remains a challenge for social marketers, and this is one simple way to do it.

What should you be aware of?
If a user posts something from Twitter with UTM parameters and shares it to Facebook, will it come from Facebook or Twitter?

That’s fun and all, but how do I see all the data? Let’s look at an example. You’re probably reading this from a social post that we created, so let’s look at the link that we use:

In Google Analytics you can see how you acquired users and the relevant metrics using the Acquisition report.

If you want to nail down a bit further how each social network is doing with your organic social media links, you can click on each network. For specific links, you can also Source / Medium as a secondary dimension to any of your reports in Analytics.

Or, if you’d like to see any other metrics from the parameters you’ve included, such as how well your “Spring Sale” posts from social are doing, you can narrow it down by filtering for each specific parameter where it was used.

Some last tips
Managing UTM tracking parameters can seem like a daunting task at first, but it’s easier if you follow these rules:

1. For each parameter, name each as if you were asking a question. For example, the Source can be, “Where was this posted?” and Content can be, “What is being posted?” etc.

2. Once you have a naming convention down, you can easily use it for all the following links from each specific social network. In Falcon, we have Campaign Templates where you won’t ever have to change the UTM. It automatically pulls in the correct parameters you created based off of each social network.

3. Create conversions in Google Analytics in order to see how well the traffic is performing. Whether the goal of your social media posts is to increase engagement to a blog post or sign up for an event, UTM parameters help you improve on campaigns based on interactions.

In the end, social media marketers have to rely on data to see the full cycle of their work and evaluate their social media ROI. Tracking the success of their social media posts is just one step to becoming a better social marketer.

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