Stop Being Fooled by Vanity Metrics

Let me make this really simple for you.

Would you rather have a Facebook page that has 500 fans in which 350 comment regularly, engage your content, share your content and return frequently? Or would you rather have a page that has 5,000 fans in which 100 people occasionally hit the “like” button?

JCPenney doesn’t care if they get 5,000 people in their store every day if nobody buys anything.

This is why I constantly roll my eyes when I hear an organization say they want me to help them get some more Facebook “Likes” or a company explains to me that their ads were a huge success because their impressions went up by 15% in Q2.

Guess what? That’s not even awareness unless they’re sticking around for a bit, unless they’ll remember your brand and recall it later. And I don’t even want to know what you spent to get those clicks.

Vanity metrics are fine to start the conversation, but they’re just chapter one. WE HAVE TO STOP EMPHASIZING THESE METRICS over ones that matter significantly more.

This is something Don Bartholomew, SVP Digital and Social Media Research at Ketchum, understood a long time ago: Social Media Measurement 2011: Five Things to Forget and Five Things to Learn

Here’s Eric Reis talking about the ineffectiveness of vanity metrics and what data actually matters.

I’ve ranted before on why I think impressions are a garbage business metric and I’ve gone so far as to explain what I believe to be the most important YouTube metric.

Don’t fall into this trap of over-valuing vanity metrics “just because everyone else is.” That’s a lousy excuse. And if your CFO or someone else wants those numbers, give them to her, but explain them in context. Help them understand that impressions, Facebook likes and Twitter followers are just the very beginning of the story.

And if you don’t know how to go beyond vanity metrics, then I encourage you to check out some of these resources:

5 Steps to Measure the ROI of Digital Media Channels – (Fast Company)

Clay Hebert’s Social Media ROI slidedeck from Blog World NY 2012

Spend a few hours digging through the archives of Olivier Blanchard, Avinash Kaushik and Chuck Hemann.

In a world where your phone can give you turn-by-turn directions there’s no excuse to not understand how to measure your digital marketing efforts. Let’s stop reporting vanity metrics without context and let’s start holding each other more accountable.


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  • Hi Ryan,

    Thanks for the interesting read. I do work with a few examples of “hyped” social media expectations and find you are quite right. It is rarely worthwhile obtaining these “likes” or “followers”. However, given a large enough organisation, I believe it can motivate or stimulate these metrics.

    For SME’s I find it a death trap. Most of the success models have made the use of these media’s their key to clients and customers. They have even made it their model of business and suffer when they change. The other group or the late commers are all hyped up by the success of these early adopters. They all want in on the pie, but they are not interested in operating these tools, understanding the rules of engagement or communicate. I guess, you get what I am saying, if I phrase it like this: “divorce seems eminent”.

    Now for my question(-s). Would you advise companies like these to ignore the social media? Think up a slick scheme that would fit their needs/expectations? Or, start the long and narrow road of induction 1.0?
    Christian JP´s last blog post ..It came with the postman


    Ryan Stephens Reply:

    @Christian – I would advise companies to ignore social media and digital efforts at their own peril. More and more people, customers, prospects are communicating with one another and brands in the social space. Good companies go where their fans are and/or could be.

    That said, there’s a couple of caveats. The first being that it doesn’t have to be a “slick” scheme as you call it, but the key is to not be inundated by all the different tools and platforms. Companies need to determine what they’re trying to achieve and THEN seek out the tools that will help them reach their goals. The second caveat is that it takes TIME to do it correctly. You can spend big dollars and shove your traditional advertising message down people’s throats via social channels, but that’s exactly what they don’t want… what they won’t respond to.

    The key is to be helpful, be human and provide the time of content when they want, where they want it, and how they want it. Earn permission over time and then over deliver value. A component of that is probably educating your customer. Another component of that is educating your team internally best practices on using these tools, growing a community, or fans, or whatever (and they are different), and finally how to measure and communicate the effectiveness of your tactics.

    I hope this helps. Thanks for the thoughtful comment and your questions.


    Christian JP Reply:

    @Ryan – thanks for the answer. I get what you are saying and I holla back at it. I my self am convinced a conversation needs to take place if you want to convince the customer who walked in/onto your store/site. Sadly many clients do not see this and thinks social media is a magic box that can spew out money… What could possibly be more wrong, eh?

    Communication is not easy. For instance most people will search for mindfulness, but some will also search for mindfulnes, mindfullness or mindfullnes. So if you cannot even agree on how a word is spelled, how can we possibly agree on what works in marketing or even what social media is intended to be?

    That said I am still stuck with no solution for the communication error.
    Christian JP´s last blog post ..It came with the postman