Here's why you should stop using Vanity Metrics 🤮



Using vanity metrics to measure the performance of content campaigns on social media is perhaps one of the simplest things to do in marketing but also one of the most difficult.


It’s simple because vanity metrics are easy to obtain in large numbers, all platforms supply them; it’s difficult because they are often ambiguous when it comes to reporting a return on investment (ROI). It’s this second point that is the thorn in the side of many marketers struggling to discover the true value of a vanity metric to a business.


Vanity metrics often includes impressions, “likes,” shares, comments, followers, open rates, views, traffic, time on site, bounce rate, and the like. Often called “engagement metrics” or “consumption metrics,” they are the most-used metrics in social media / content marketing to measure the performance and success of marketing efforts. As far as the numbers go, vanity metrics look great on paper but... the sheen on these numbers fades when you use them to explain important business outcomes like ROI or customer lifetime value (CLTV); they become hollow digits that contribute little substance to proving your marketing is making money.


As far as the numbers go, Vanity Metrics look great on paper. But the sheen on these numbers fades when you use them to explain important business outcomes like ROI or CLTV; they become hollow digits that contribute little substance to proving your marketing is making money.

A case in point, the number of “likes” earned from a Facebook post rarely correlates to the number of products sold on a store shelf. Some would argue that there is no correlation at all. Indeed, it is possible to make more sales from a post with only one “like” than from a post with 10,000 “likes.” The number of engagements is usually irrelevant to the number of sales. There is no clear correlation or causation between the metric and the goal.


It’s the act of counting vanity metrics as evidence for success that is a problem — a problem easily demonstrated when measuring metrics such as impressions or traffic. In the example below (highlighted in green), Facebook earns three times more traffic than SlideShare as a channel. If reporting stops at the number of people clicking through to the site, Facebook is the best-performing channel. However, that assumption would be incorrect.



Taking a deeper dive by following that traffic down the funnel to a conversion and the revenue earned by conversions (highlighted in blue), you’ll find that SlideShare is the more valuable channel for this website. The vanity metric of traffic tells only half the story. There is no point in counting traffic unless it’s paired against a business objective. Yes, you need traffic to convert; but more traffic does not always equal more conversions.


As a caveat, vanity metrics such as impressions, “likes,” and traffic are not useless, quite the contrary. The value of a vanity metric is in measuring non-transactional marketing goals (such as brand awareness, sentiment, and share of voice) as well as to optimize campaigns and troubleshoot marketing problems.



Optimization metrics, not vanity metrics


Like clickbait, the words “Vanity Metric” have earned undeserved negative connotations, making it easy for marketers to dismiss their value. I like the term “optimization metrics” because it helps you understand their value. The purpose of a vanity/optimization metric is to help optimize your content for your target audience on a specific channel.


Vanity metrics’ purpose is to optimize your #content for audiences on a specific channel, says @Logocracycopy

When you report the number of impressions, clicks, or shares your content receives, you should NOT tie the numbers to ROI. Instead, you should tie them to better understanding your audience on that channel. Even the same vanity metrics (“likes,” comments, and shares) have different meanings depending on the channel.


As a marketer, you can judge the vanity metric of comments on LinkedIn to be more valuable to your brand’s sentiment and marketing efforts than those received on YouTube. Alternatively, when it comes to the vanity metric of traffic, those who engage with content through Google search are usually of higher value (if your goal is transactional) than those on Instagram.


With this in mind, leverage vanity metrics to support how to improve messaging to your target audiences through A/B testing and troubleshooting.



Relationship between A/B testing and vanity metrics


Again, vanity metrics are most useful to report on your marketing goals, not your business goals.


Vanity metrics are most useful to measure your #marketing goals, not your business goals, says @LogocracyCopy

As an example, let’s take the marketing goal of awareness. You want to know if your content is resonating and relevant to your target audience members – are they aware of your brand and content? To uncover this, measure awareness through A/B testing and the resulting vanity metrics. Let’s say you post content to LinkedIn and want to test imagery to see which works better for your targeted LinkedIn audience. You run an A/B test on snippet images to see if the image of the computer or the image of the woman is more relevant to your target audience.



A/B testing requires strategic planning across a large audience pool to deliver actionable insights. It takes time to do this right, so expect posts to fail in the beginning when you are light on insights. But as your testing gets better so will your content and its performance.


Using vanity metrics to troubleshoot content issues


Let’s say you are running a paid campaign on Facebook and it is underperforming regarding traffic (marketing goal) and sales (business objective). How can you use vanity metrics to solve this problem?


You know the campaign is receiving a below-average click-through rate based on:

  • Number of people reached by the post (impressions)

  • Number of engagements performed from the post (clicks)



First, evaluate the impressions because if you aren’t reaching the right audience, they can’t click. You hypothesize that you are reaching the right audience but not enough of them. Now, use that insight to increase your spend on Facebook to earn more eyeballs.


On the flip side, if impressions are abnormally high but people are not clicking on the content, you can hypothesize that you are targeting the wrong audience or your content isn’t sufficiently compelling.


Exercises like this show you how valuable vanity metrics can be to your marketing efforts. Using vanity metrics in this manner will help improve your content on the channel and, over time, lead to higher engagement and success for your marketing goals.


Use vanity metrics to improve your #content on #socialmedia channels and lead to higher engagement, says @LogocracyCopy

Use vanity metrics the right way


Overall, vanity metrics can be used to measure many things, but they are most valuable when used to test and improve how your target audience is reacting to your content on different channels.


Use vanity metrics to best measure your marketing goals such as sentiment or brand awareness on a specific channel. For business goals, such as ROI, vanity metrics should take a back seat to those metrics that build the customer lifetime value narrative (conversions, subscriptions, MQLs, SQLs, etc.). But note, this is not a quick win. CLTV takes time, A/B testing, volumes of content, and conversions to build an accurate picture. Don’t look for the quick-and-dirty win with vanity metrics; it’s not there.



Instead of these metrics without much sense or context, I propose to use these others:


The 10 most important metrics in eCommerce

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