Social Media and the dilemma of Vanity Metrics

Social Media and the dilemma of Vanity Metrics

Social Media or digital marketing, at large is all about measurability and analytics – the ability to measure and quantify each step of the process is what separates it from traditional marketing initiatives. There is no dearth of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) or metrics for a marketer to choose from. In fact, for the new or uninitiated, it can get overwhelming trying to make sense from the overload of information provided. Irnoically, a large portion of our marketing dashnoards are filled with what we call Vanity metrics.

Not all metrics are equally important- metrics that do not hold any real Business Value are called Vanity metrics. However, we must be careful in not ignoring the vanity metrics as they serve their own purpose in data analytics.

Getting confusing with the contradictory statements. Let’s try to clear this up- Vanity metrics are data points that do not translate into any real business value and are not useful without a proper context. Actionable insights, on the other hand, provide quantifiable business value and can be directly measured to analyze the performance of a marketing campaign. Are all metrics clearly segmented as vanity and actionable? – Unfortunately, the answer is in the negative. Some metrics are clearly defined as vanity and some as actionable but some lie in the grey area, and their segmentation can only determine on a case basis.

The main takeaway is that the business objectives define a metric as vanity or actionable.

Time and again, we see people put up Blog posts and videos about how they are able to increase their reach to a hundred thousand people and how they got thousands of page followers and likes in a short span of time. Without a proper context, this is the most misleading way of measuring a campaign. It is our misguided obsession with vanity metrics that has given rise to entire trend of social media panels and buying followers and likes for the sake it – $50 for 50k followers. On paper, this might look as a very tempting proposition but the truth is that, it does more harm than any good.

Let’s take an in-depth look at some of the most common Metrics that we are familiar with in regards to Social Media.

Reach: The most misunderstood of the lot, reach is a metric that is time and again brought up by marketers as proof of their performance. Without context, it does not matter if your content has reached to a hundred thousand people. Neil Shah, Diageo’s Global Senior Brand Manager for Smirnoff, had once refereed to ‘reach’ as a vanity metric and rightly so – Reach gives you no insight on whether or not the ads or content had any engagement with the target audience. Reach as a Key Performance Indicator has undergone quite an evolution in the digital age in comparison to traditional TV or print media – where reach simply meant mass audience. Today, with greater control over ad targeting, marketers are able to narrow down on their niche target audience and therefore, even a campaign with lower reach, targeting a niche audience may be way more successful in comparison to one with a wider audience. What Reach provides is a scope of the scale of a marketing initiative and does not represent performance or business growth. Given that Reach and Impressions are related, both are counted as Vanity metrics.

Number of Newsletter Subscribers: This is one metric that is very often misinterpreted as a measure of company growth. Simply sending out periodic newsletters to the entire subscriber list without having a long term strategy in place, is not going to achieve any business goals.

Let’s look at a personal example. Being a social media marketer means you have to keep yourself updated with every new trend or fad – time to time some blog or social media post catches my attention and I end up signing up for a newsletter in the hopes of receiving similar high content quality. So, I am a person who is interested only in content related to social media trends and not in any of the last minute deals on products or services – I need to be nurtured forward into the sales cycle before being bombarded with last minute deals in my mail. 64 mails sent to my account, each at an interval of 3-4 days. On some marketer’s dashboard, I am one amongst thousands of members of a mailing list –  a list that is being sent out without any personalization or strategy in mind. There is zero value addition of such lists to the business goals.

Spam mail

The remedy is to measuring the output – leads, sales from such a newsletter list. Therefore, if we are talking about the size of a newsletter list it is a vanity metric.

Page Likes: Dial back to a few years ago and all of the top posts regarding social media used to have to a title of something along the lines of ‘Learn the secret to getting 10k followers in a month’- our obsession with having bigger following than our competitors on social media. Having a bigger following obviously does have its advantages but it does not translate to any actionable goal – proof of this is the way the feeds of Instagram, Facebook work. Neither platform use a chronological feed and instead rely on using a complex algorithm based on engagement rates. It is a known fact organic reach has hugely declined and these channels are mostly geared towards advertising- after all ad revenue is how they make the bulk of their money. Another factor being, people do not want to have their feeds bombarded by brands and businesses and instead want to focus on their personal lives.

Let’s take an example to clearly show how Page likes can be misleading at times – Page 1 has 100k like and Page 2 has less than 10k likes. Now, Page 1 has used every trick in the book ranging from social media panels to click bait stuff to grow their numbers without bothering about their Target Group. On the other hand, Page 2 has slowly grown using both organic and paid campaigns to target a very niche audience. When it comes to returns, page 2 will obviously provide better conversions and sales in comparison to Page. Page Likes is not meaningful without taking into context a lot of other factors, to shed light on the quality and relevancy of the followers. Therefore, Page Likes are a vanity metric.

The ones mentioned above were clear-cut Vanity metrics that are valid in 99% of the cases. Now let’s move on to the ones which are a bit trickier and very situation dependent.

Before analyzing KPIs, it would be wise to have a look at the business objectives to make sure we have a proper frame of reference:

  • Business Conversions: Sales and Leads
  • Brand Awareness: Engagement and Share of Voice
  • Customer Experience: Customer Service

Post Likes and Comments:  Post likes and comments can be vanity metrics other than for a couple of reasons. They do not represent the complete picture. Take for example, a lead generation campaign – you manage to get a ton of post likes and comments, but they are meaningless to measure the performance of the campaign.

So when are Post Likes and Comments meaningful?

Not every business out there, is trying to makes sales or looking at ROI for their marketing initiatives- some are striving to create an active community of users. Likes and Comments represent a measure of engagement and are helpful in improving EdgeRank – the Facebook equivalent of Google PageRank for web pages. Likes and comments actually form an important part

Conversions: This one is going to be the most controversial. Every social media marketer knows how important conversions are and often, the conversion rate is the sole factor driving a campaign. At the end of a campaign, the only thing a client is often worried about- “How many Leads for the day?” Let’s look from the perspective of the client – they spend X amount of money on a Facebook or Instagram campaign, which is their input and what should be the output from a social media marketer? Conversions or Leads is an intermediate metric, Sales is the end result of the campaign and the measure of its success or failure. The problem arises since for most social media marketers; their role ends at the lead generations stage. So for the marketer, Leads or conversions is the actionable metric whereas for the client, it the number of sales. It’s a quality over quantity equation where increasing the number of leads does not equate to increase in sales volume if the lead quality is compromised.

What is a social media marketer supposed to do then?

Run a conversion campaign, basing it on best practices and personal experience. Get the feedback from the client or track sales performance if there is access to client CRM and based on that optimize the audience targeting filters to get the higher quality leads. Once the quality of leads becomes stable, that is when the number of leads will equate to performance and can be regarded as an actionable metric.

So, do we ignore the vanity metrics in social media? – Absolutely not

This is getting a bit confusing, so let’s use an example to clear the situation

We spend a significant amount of money on a Facebook campaign for a client and it is unable to get a satisfactory number of Leads. In order to find out where things went, we start with the customer journey- the Target audience is shown our ads who then click on it to get to our landing page, where we attempt to convert them from visitors to Leads. These leads are then handled by the sales team which tries to close them.

Target Audience>>Visitors>>Leads>>Customer

First we look at the ads itself and if people are clicking on it.

High Click-through-Rate: People are clicking on the ads and we are using the correct creatives for the TG. Low Click-Through-Rate: People are not clicking on the ads, and we have a disconnect between the creatives and the TG. We are either targeting the wrong TG or not using relevant creatives to entice them. This can be resolved by optimizing the Target group or going back to the drawing board, and improving upon the creatives.

So, we have managed to get people to our Landing page. The next step is figuring out why they are not signing up for our offer- Low Conversions or High Cost Per Lead (CPL). Check for the bounce rate of the Landing page and the behavior of the traffic on the website. Now, there is a disconnect between the Content on the Page and what we have shown. Align the ad to represent the Landing page and what we are selling – if that does not resolve the issue, we have to go back to step one and re-evaluate our TG.

So, how was this lengthy example of any help to clear our dilemma of vanity metrics- the problem solving included all data points- impressions, reach, clicks, likes and comments, leads, etc. to help us in resolving the issue.

So, what is the grand conclusion?

Vanity metrics should not drive the performance of our Social Media campaigns and are not the KPIs that we boast of to our clients. They are instead the Data points which are indispensable for problem solving. Use actionable metrics for measuring the performance.

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