You’ve probably wondered whether your Facebook, Twitter, or [fill-in-the-blank-social-media-site] really makes a difference when it comes to marketing your books or building your platform.
Before I describe a few ways to specifically analyze how your social media might be leading to hard results, first I want to acknowledge that social media doesn’t have to lead to book sales to be invaluable. Relationship building is a central benefit of social media—it helps you develop connections with influencers and contribute to conversations that may lead to opportunities down the road.
Also, being active online, consistently, over a long period of time, can contribute to gaining visibility and readership that’s difficult to measure through analytics tools alone.
Still, it’s good to have a good idea of how your efforts might be having a positive effect, or none at all. The easiest way to do that is to (1) track how often people end up at your website as a result of seeing your social media activity, and (2) track people’s engagement with your posts.
Method 1: Use Google Analytics
Google Analytics is a free tool to help you study your website traffic and audience. You generally need a self-hosted site to use Analytics (find out how to self-host your site here), but it’s possible to use it with Blogger- and Tumblr-based sites, too.
You’ll want to use Google Analytics to look at several data points:
- The percentage of traffic to your website originating from social media
- Which social media sites dominate in sending you traffic
- How much that traffic has changed over time
- If social media sites send you new visitors and/or engaged visitors
In Google Analytics, navigate to Acquisition > Channels to see the percentage of your website traffic originating from social media. Here’s an example:
This chart shows that social media constitutes 9.5% of this site’s overall traffic. The most important traffic source for this site is not social, but organic search—nearly 70% of visitors land at this site after searching Google, Bing, etc.
To see if social is increasing or decreasing in importance as a source of traffic, compare this period of time to the previous period. Then check the percentage growth.
This tells us that traffic from social media has declined 6.32% versus the previous period. Why? It could be a variety of factors: less activity on social media, less engaging posts, less exposure or visibility of posts, fewer followers, fewer engaged followers, etc.
OK, so social media traffic is down. Is it down from all sources, or is there one source to blame? Let’s find out.
Go to Acquisition > Social > Network Referrals. Here’s an example of what you’ll see.
This shows us that Facebook (38%) and Twitter (36%) are the biggest drivers of social traffic to this site. Two interesting data points to look at: the average session duration and pages per session. If the session time is low, that means the visitors are likely unengaged and not particularly relevant to you or valuable (or your website could be really bad). See the StumbleUpon visitors—even though there’s a high number of them, they spend an average of 21 seconds on the site, whereas a visitor from Blogger spends an average of 2:14m on the site. That indicates a more valuable and relevant reader coming from Blogger. A high number of pages per session also indicates higher engagement and a more valuable visitor to you.
So, let’s compare periods as we did before, and see what happens.
Traffic is increasing from Facebook and Pinterest; it’s on a sharp decline from Tumblr. Twitter and StumbleUpon are mostly neutral, but slightly down. How you interpret this, again, depends on how your activity might have changed over time. If it hasn’t changed, that might indicate a change by the social media network in how and when it’s showing your posts. It could also indicate a growth or decline in that social media network’s popularity and/or user base.
You can go even deeper by clicking on the specific social media network in this results chart, and seeing where the traffic is going on a page-by-page basis. You’ll see very quickly if a particular page or post is getting the lion’s share of traffic.
If you become an expert at using Google Analytics, you can set up “goals” related to visitors who come to your site from social media, and track how often those “goals” are met. A goal might be signing up for your e-mail newsletter, clicking on a particular series of pages, or making a purchase at your site.
Method 2: Use Analytics Specific to the Social Media Network
Whether you have Google Analytics or not, you can pull valuable information from analytics provided by the social media tool itself. For example, here’s what I can learn from my own recent Twitter use from Twitter’s analytics. (To find yours, go to the Twitter website, click on your profile icon, then choose “Analytics” from the menu.)
This shows engagement on a tweet-by-tweet basis. Twitter will also give you a 28-day rolling average for all your activity:
Facebook pages, Pinterest, Tumblr, and LinkedIn all offer similar tools for gauging the success of your content or posts.
So, Now What?
It’s always important to look at your analytics in the context of what content you post or distribute. For example, in my Twitter analytics screenshot above, the post with the highest engagement included a picture and had nothing to do with the business of writing and publishing. I’d want to look closer at whether tweets with pictures always perform better (regardless of topic), and if my non-businessy tweets always do well. Also, if I notice my more self-promotional tweets always perform worst of all, how can I improve them or change my strategy?
If you find out that social media visitors seem to be a small percentage of your overall website traffic, or the lowest quality visitor, don’t automatically assume that social media doesn’t have any effect on your overall marketing or platform. There’s that whole relationship building aspect I mentioned earlier (it takes a social media village to market a book), plus readers may not visit your site if you’re not a blogger or otherwise giving them a specific reason to go there. So even if social media doesn’t have a particular impact on your site traffic, your activity likely has a positive effect on reader engagement—and that’s especially the case if you’re regularly sending people to Amazon or some other place where you can’t directly measure the results.
Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has nearly 25 years of experience in the media & publishing industry. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.
In addition to being a professor with The Great Courses (How to Publish Your Book), she is the author of The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), which received a starred review from Library Journal.
Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as Digital Book World and Frankfurt Book Fair, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.