Guide to Social Interactions Tracking in Google Analytics

What is Social Interactions in Google Analytics?

In Google Analytics (GA), Social Interactions (or social network interactions) can mean:

  1. Facebook likes
  2. Facebook unlikes
  3. Twitter Tweets
  4. Twitter Follows
  5. Twitter Retweet
  6. Twitter Clicks
  7. Google +1s etc.

Social Interaction analytics is the measurement of the social interactions in Google Analytics.

Once you have implemented Social Interactions tracking, you can then see the data in your GA view by going to Acquisition > Social > Plugins report and then clicking on ‘Social Network and Action’ tab:

social network action

These social interactions are measured by tracking the number of times a user click on social sharing buttons embedded on a web page.

Social Interactions is made up of following type of data in Google Analytics:

socialNetwork –  the social network on which the interaction occurred.

socialAction – the type of social interaction that occurred.

socialTarget – URL of the web page where the social interaction occurred. The value of social target is usually a URL but it can also be any string.

‘socialNetwork’ field can have following values:

  1. Twitter
  2. Facebook
  3. LinkedIn
  4. Disqus
  5. Stack Overflow
  6. Google+
  7. Pocket
  9. Quora
  10. Netvibes etc

‘socialAction’ field can have following values:

  1. like
  2. unlike
  3. click
  4. tweet
  5. + 1
  6. follow
  7. retweet etc

To send social interactions data to Google Analytics, use the Google Analytics ‘send’ command with social hit type:

ga(‘send’, ‘social’, ‘facebook’, ‘like’, targetURL);

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Requirements for Social Interactions Tracking in Google Analytics

Following are the requirements for implementing social interactions tracking in Google Analytics:

#1 Basic understanding of the development environment of your social plugin.

For example if you want to track Facebook interactions (like Facebooks Likes and Unlikes) then you must develop at least basic understanding of Facebook JavaScript SDK for website. I use the words ‘for website’ because we have also got Facebook SDK for IOS and Facebook SDK for Android which are different beasts on their own.

Similarly, if you want to track Twitter interactions (like tweets, clicks, follows etc) then you must develop at least basic understanding of Twitter JavaScript SDK for websites.

#2 The social plugin (like Facebook Like Button, Twitter Tweet button) you use on your website must provide a callback function.

It is the callback function which provides the social interaction data.

For example in case of Facebook, FB.Event.subscribe() is the function which captures and send Facebook social interactions data (likes and unlikes). A website can use one or more social sharing plugins. For example I use the official Plugins provided by Facebook, Twitter and Google. But I also use social sharing plugin provided by ‘Sumome’.

If you want to track Facebook ‘likes’ via other social sharing plugins like: Shareaholic, Disqus, Sumome etc then you first need to find their call back function and understand how to use them.

Just because you can track Facebook ‘likes’ from the official Facebook ‘Like’ button, doesn’t mean that you can automatically track Facebook ‘likes’ from all other social sharing plugins. It doesn’t work that way.

Note: You can also track social interactions without using callback functions via event tracking in GA or via auto event tracking in Google Tag Manager but then your tracking will no longer be consistent with the framework designed for Social Interactions Tracking.

#3 You need to use the right Social Plugin

You can track only those social actions for which you have installed the right social plugin on your website.

For e.g. if you want to track Facebook ‘send’ event then you first need to install Facebook ‘send’ button on your website. If you want to track Facebook ‘comment’ then you first need to install Facebook ‘comment’ plugin on your website.

Similarly you need to install twitter follow button before you can track twitter follows in Google Analytics or Google + button, before you can install Google +1 in Google Analytics.

Limitation of Social Interactions Tracking in Google Analytics

Through Social Interaction tracking you can track only those social shares which occurred on your website via the plugin you are tracking. You can not track social shares across the internet. 

For example.

If your blog post is tweeted 100 times via twitter button on your website and then later re-tweeted 400 times, then Google Analytics will count and report only 100 tweets in your Social Plugin report. This is because only 100 tweets occurred on your website via the social sharing plugin you are tracking. The other 400 tweets occurred away from the website.

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