What’s a UTM Tag and What’s it Doing in my PR?

Ever followed a link to an article or blog post on Twitter, and noticed that it had a string of extra text tacked onto the end with a bunch of underscores and equal signs? It probably looked something like this:

http://www.shiftcomm.com/blog/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=SHIFTblog

That’s a UTM code. Though a familiar friend to the digital marketer, to many PR professionals it reads like gibberish. But that bit of text is an indispensable weapon in the marketer’s arsenal – and it can also be an invaluable tool for PR if you understand how to use it.

UTM = short for “Use This, Marketers!”

Measure THISOK, not really. But it’s so handy to the marketer’s toolkit that it might as well be. A UTM tag is string of text added to a URL that allows you to monitor traffic to your website by source (i.e. where it’s coming from) and medium (i.e. how it got there).

In summary: by understanding which sources drive more (or less) traffic for each specific campaign, marketers can measure the success of a campaign and draw valuable insights about what works, what doesn’t and how to tweak for next time.

But what’s in it for PR?

As a PR professional, being savvy about UTM tags will bring you one step closer to that elusive phantom that escapes many a PR campaign: concrete metrics that matter to the client. While in the past we’ve noted that the job of PR is not to directly drive sales, make no mistake: good PR should be helping. UTM tags can help you demonstrate the value of your work by showing how it drives quantifiable marketing results (i.e. website traffic and, ultimately, sales).

Imagine this scenario.

You’re running social on behalf of a client, and they want to run a Back-to-School giveaway campaign on Twitter and Facebook. They set up a landing page for the campaign, and your goal is clear: use your PR prowess to drive as many people to that landing page as humanly possible. You pitch the news to your media contacts, you draft promotional content to push out on Twitter and Facebook, you utilize all the right hashtags.

Then comes the reporting. You can track metrics such as follower growth and post engagement with access to Facebook Insights and Twitter Analytics. There are tools out there (like Sysomos and TweetReach) that can help you calculate how many people tweeted/shared, and estimate exposure or impressions generated. This is the easy stuff for most PR professionals.

This is where UTM tags can add an extra “oomph” to your metrics. Create and add the appropriate UTM tag to the landing page URL, and via Google Analytics you’ll be able to see not only how many people visited the page, but whether they came from Facebook or Twitter as well. Plus, it differentiates the traffic from your individual posts from all the other traffic that reached the page independently – allowing you to measure the actual impact of this specific campaign, and use it to offer your client more meaningful recommendations for future campaigns.

So show me how to do it!

Firstly, UTM tags will only work if your client has an analytics platform like Google Analytics set up with goals. Encourage your client to give you Analytics access. Without it, you won’t be able to see any of the awesome results of your campaign!

Secondly, understanding when to use UTM tags is a simple matter of asking yourself, “Does the URL link back to the client’s website?” If yes, use a UTM tag. If no, a UTM tag will do you no good.  Examples of times to use UTM tags can be anything from social campaign landing pages to sharing eBooks and webinars.

Next, use Google’s Campaign URL Builder. Start with the URL you want to drive traffic to, such as a homepage or landing page, and fill in a source (e.g. Facebook) and a medium (e.g. social). (Term and content are optional and can give you more customization if you’re tracking paid keywords.)

So to stick with the above example, if I were running a Back-to-School campaign for a client on Facebook and Twitter, I would fill out the form twice as such:

Website URL: www.clientwebsite.com/landingpage (both times)
Campaign Source: facebook (first time); twitter (second time)
Campaign Medium: social (both times)
Campaign Name: back to school (both times)

I would end up with two separate URLs, one to use when sharing the landing page on Facebook, and the other to use when sharing on Twitter.

Acquisitions -> Campaigns
In Google Analytics is where the magic happens. Look under Acquisition -> Campaigns. After you share the UTM’ed URL and it’s received a few clicks, you’ll see your campaign right there. If you click on the campaign, you’ll see traffic broken down by the social media channels you set. At the end of the campaign you’ll be able to deliver your client a robust report beefed up with web traffic metrics, all thanks to a small snippet of text that Google will generate for you (until you learn to create them yourself)!

JJ Samp
Marketing Analyst 

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Posted on July 24, 2014 in Analytics, Data-Driven PR, Metrics, Public Relations, Tools, Training

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