Google Analytics has had social reports for a while now. The Social report appears among the other Traffic Source reports such as Sources and Search Engine Optimisation. From here you can view Network Referrals, Conversions, Trackbacks and Data Hub Activity from other Data Hub Partners like Disqus and Reddit. These reports simplify tracking the value of social activity and traffic and they start to work as soon as Google Analytics starts to function on the site.
There is another, very useful report that takes a little more to get started with: the Plugin report. This report tracks how and where users interact with social media plugins on the site. Without any further work, this report will only track any Google+ buttons active on the site. To get more from this report, you will need to do a little more work.
Where Being Socially Active is an Event
To add other social plugins to the Plugin report you will need to use a method very much like the one you use to track events. While similar, these actions will not appear as an Event in Google Analytics. They will not show up in the beta Event Real Time report, nor will they appear in the Event report under content. When set up, they will only be used in the Social Plugin report.
There is not a lot of difference between:
_gaq.push(['_trackSocial', 'Pinterest', 'Article Pin', 'Location']);
_gaq.push(['_trackEvent', 'Social', 'Click', 'Location']);
As _trackSocial is close to _trackEvent in how it works, it is possible simply to add it to any link-based social sharing widget such as in the example below. While this is easy to implement, it can be time consuming to maintain and possibly even cause some issues down the track.
<a style="display: inline-block; text-indent: -9999px; overflow: hidden; width: 81px; height: 20px; background: url('http://platform.tumblr.com/v1/share_1.png') top left no-repeat transparent;" title="Share on Tumblr" onclick="_gaq.push(['_trackSocial', 'Tumblr', 'Share', 'pageURL']);" href="http://www.tumblr.com/share">Share on Tumblr</a>
When onclick isn't Enough
Widgets like those supplied by Linkedin or Pinterest are a little bit different, and clicking to share involves a little more than just a simple link. These kinds of widgets require another approach.
<script type="IN/Share" data-counter="top"></script>
div, targeted by class:
_gaq.push(['_trackSocial', 'Linkedin', 'Share', 'PageURL']);
There is always more that can be done, and if you can set up Events, there is no reason you cannot take the same techniques and apply those to populating your Social Plugin reports in Google Analytics. Or you can simply set up the above as _trackEvent rather than _trackSocial. Personally I prefer to do a little of both, tracking all clicks on social elements on a site as a single Event category, as well as through Social Plugins. Ultimately how you approach this is determined by the requirements of your reporting and the business. Google Tag Manager and Universal Analytics will change a few things around when implemented, but the above can be implemented easily for 'Classic Analytics'.