Vanity Metrics vs. Contextualised Numbers

It is no secret these days that numbers get a bad wrap. At least in certain social media circles. You can’t even mention a number without everyone screaming ‘vanity metrics!’ at you.

It would seem that ANY time ANY body brings up a ‘number’ it’s automatically labelled as a vanity metric and that’s not so (and side note — it’s actually ‘OK’ to float numbers around and even be proud of hitting numerical goals).

Let me provide some context for what vanity metrics truly are.

They are exactly what they sound like.

They’re numbers that are arbitrary but make you feel good. They’re a number for the sake of a number… as if we all know that a magic number will somehow guarantee business.

Most of us (in the industry) know that vanity metrics are not helpful for long term gain or return business.

Numbers, however, are not the bad guy.

BIG numbers even, are not the bad guy.

It’s poor marketers in the industry subtly and even not so subtly purporting this idea that somehow quantity is better than quality.

Here’s what DOES matter.

If you can quantify how a number is meaningful to your business, then by all means — chase those numbers in a way that makes sense to you. For example, if you can historically say that you convert 10% of your social media following into sales (or even leads that then convert to sales), those numbers now take on actual meaning.

Further to this (and perhaps a controversial and unpopular idea), if a number gets you somewhere just by way of it being a number… then, you know what? Go for it.

Don’t be mad at me for saying that. Let me provide context.

I know someone in the musical theatre industry. Recently she looked at auditioning for a particular show, however, to be eligible she had to have at least 10k followers on Twitter. Crazy right?! But the idea that she couldn’t even audition without that metric is ludicrous and it’s in those instances that I would not be ashamed to go after a metric purely because there is a purpose to it.

Now, the way you go about it is an entirely different matter. I’m not suggesting being unethical — although that would be the quickest route and the cheapest but at the end of the day, in the case above, the theatre company clearly want a minimum amount of followers because it will help guarantee the success of the show when it comes to selling tickets. So ethically acquiring those followers (and targeted ones at that) makes sense.

See where am I going with this?

Not all numbers are cut from the same cloth and even those that might seem arbitrary initially, might in fact have value upon further inspection.

I recently did an exercise where I wrote down all of the work I’d won over the past 6+ months and where that work had originated from. Interestingly, despite the fact that I’m in social media, an overwhelmingly large % (80+) actually came from referrals. While that doesn’t mean I should remove my efforts in other areas, it is something I need to pay attention to.

It tells me that I need to look after those I already have as opposed to putting extra energy into other avenues. At least for now.

In saying that, if I was to quantify all of my channels and put a dollar value on what each has brought me, I would see a different trend again. And that too is something I need to pay attention too.

I mean, its the Pareto Principle isn’t it? — 80% of my outcomes will derive from 20% of my inputs.

So, perhaps ‘most’ of my work is coming from referrals but let’s say I get one BIG contract through a social media channel. That is not to be ignored and furthermore, by applying both of the trends I’ve noticed above, I now know to invest more into that channel as well as make sure I look after the client that has come from that channel in order to ensure further referrals.

See how numbers can begin to work for you — so long as you choose the right ones.

Another trend I’ve seen lately with clients and prospective clients alike is an unfounded need to reach a certain metric on individual social channels. When questioned further as to why this specific number is meaningful, I often find that while they know this number means nothing (in its current standing), they feel the need to shoot for it. I get it. Having a goal provides meaning and allows you to aim for a target. I mean, if there’s no target how do we know when we are off track?

But we can’t get sloppy with numbers on social just because it allows us to feel like we’ve tightened all of the straps on our marketing machine.

Let’s start attributing worth and value to the numbers we are chasing.

Let’s TRY and understand why we do what we do.

Let’s NOT pretend that a number or a hollow metric has any inherent value without historical context.

If you are unsure how to attribute meaning to the numbers you already have or you are not sure there is any value in them at all, then I suggest the following: spend more time putting out quality content, engaging with the following you have and converting those ones to sales in order to begin to understand your own metrics.

Inevitably this will lead you to understand who your target customer is anyway and you’ll soon forget about breadth and start going after depth with the RIGHT people.

Numbers are all about context and the value you attribute to that context.