Jamie Robinson, We Are Social's Research & Insight Director, recently had the following article published in Forbes:

If feels like not a day goes by where a new social-media monitoring technology is announced. Even for those of us who work in the industry it’s not always easy keeping up, and this task must be even more daunting for those whose main job isn’t social-media monitoring.

One of the more recent launches to stand out is Google Analytics’ new Social Media reports. These were announced in March and finally went live a few weeks ago. Google’s positioning of this update was certainly eye-catching, with the strap-line of helping marketers “capture the value of social media.” When you consider the increased spends in digital and social, the fact that many marketers openly say they’re having trouble measuring the return on this investment and that others, such as GM, are choosing to lower their investment in social (ads), Google’s new update warrants a closer look.

Google Analytics Social Value

One of the main talking points of Google’s update is their “social value” visualization. This visualization claims to show the value of conversions from social media. These values are in fact pre-determined by the Google Analytics user. Where monetary values can be assigned to specific actions on a site (for example, clicking “Order Now”) Google Analytics will show you the total monetary value generated by those actions, and the proportion which have been referred from social media sites.

As an example, a potential application for an auto manufacturer pushing test drives on its website could be able to measure the value of all test drives booked on the site, and the value of those booked after being referred from social media sites.

The question is whether this is really measuring social’s “value.” In my opinion, no. It certainly helps measure specific areas, particularly linked to web analytics measurement, but there are many more factors that need to be looked at.

It should be said that Google’s updates aren’t unique. In fact, the crossover of social and web analytics is becoming more frequent. We’ve seen a number of similar updates from, for example, Adobe’s social offering, and even tools like Sysomos are starting to integrate Google Analytics.

While I may be a little skeptical about Google’s headline claim I’m certainty excited by the trend we’re seeing from technology providers giving marketers clearer social/web metrics. For mature brands (mature in social media monitoring) these new features will help them optimize their social-media activity, showing them what impacts their bottom line, and what doesn’t.

Back to those other factors I touched upon. A robust social-media monitoring framework shouldn’t be limited to analytics tracking, no matter how accurate a tool like Google Analytics may be. When you look closer at the details of Google’s announcement, there is one element, in my opinion, that points toward another key area, what Google calls the “activity stream.”

The stream shows the conversations taking place around the sharing of links to a site, i.e. the commentary people have added to it. This could be a positive comment, a comment encouraging followers to open the link, or a negative remark, calling out an issue or making a complaint about a brand.

This is crucial. While site analytics and conversion ratios from social are important, I believe they have little value without the insight gained from understanding the conversation triggers, the tonality, the influencers and the trends of these conversations. And this conversation monitoring shouldn’t be confined to blogs, Twitter and forums (where most tools focus). There is much insight that can be extracted from having a defined methodology to understand engagement and conversations on more challenging platforms, like Facebook (let alone sites like Instagram, Weibo or Pinterest).

As an example, this question of how to gain insight from a Facebook community, and how to increase the investment’s return, poses an additional set of questions. While one may agree or disagree with GM’s decision to cut its $10 million budget from Facebook ads, the truth is that there are many other ways in which GM, and I would argue most brands, can optimize their Facebook activity before getting too obsessed with ads. And this optimization can only come from a robust monitoring framework.

For example, dedicated Facebook monitoring will help identify when it’s best to publish content to different fans, performing deep conversation analysis within forums can uncover the topics and themes which are organically being discussed positively, YouTube tracking can help a brand learn what video content is working for a competitor, and Twitter analysis could uncover which are the most frequent questions being asked by customers.

So while updates like that of social reports for Google Analytics are welcome, they shouldn’t sidetrack your attention; they are just a small piece of a very complex puzzle. It is equally important to understand the conversation as trying to measure it, and in my experience most brands try to measure before understanding. If your brand today does not have a robust social-media monitoring framework, you should first ensure you understand the conversations around your products and services, and understand where they take place and who drives them.