The pros and cons of vanity metrics
Pope Francis has compared vanity to a peacock that is beautiful from the front, but not so impressive from behind. Web and social media metrics can also look very impressive from some angles, but tell a different story from others.
Although we all understand the importance of setting goals and monitoring performance, a lot of managers measure the wrong things when it comes to social media. Some metrics may flatter your vanity, but they won’t tell you how you arrived where you are now, and certainly won’t help you to understand what you need to do next.
We actually use the term “vanity metrics” for measurements such as page views, hits, registered users, downloads, Facebook likes or Twitter followers. At best, they provide a useful snapshot of your performance online.
At worst, they can create a misleading picture and the numbers are easy to enhance. Like movie stars who have been under the plastic surgeon’s knife, they might look better on the surface, but it doesn’t reflect the reality.
It costs very little to buy Twitter followers, and services like 500views.com can boost your performance on YouTube. But a lot of Twitter followers isn’t much use if they aren’t registering for your website, or showing interest in your products and services.
Unscrupulous community managers know how easy it is to mask the failure of a community that lives behind the firewall, by reporting only the number of registered users, without mentioning active users. Page views will look sexier if you keep quiet about the high bounce rate.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is perhaps the ultimate example of someone who has always understood which numbers are important. From the early Harvard days, when Facebook was targeting university students, Zuckerberg would always talk about daily active users and the speed of the site’s penetration into a new campus.
Actionable metrics help us to focus on the right strategies - as the name implies, we can act on them. They correlate specific actions with specific results.
But don’t get me wrong.
When used properly, so-called vanity metrics do provide proof that you
have something relevant to say and that people are listening. After all, thousands of likes and followers show that you must be doing something right.
And just as the peacock’s ostentatious display impresses peahens, vanity metrics may keep corporate bosses happy. It never ceases to surprise me how little some decision-makers understand web and social media analytics.
The fashion designer, Karl Lagerfeld - a man who knows a thing or two about the cosmetic benefits of botox - says that vanity is healthy. I’m not sure about that, but when you are competing for corporate resources, good-looking vanity metrics might buy you the time you need for your engagement strategy to bear fruit.