When Vanity Metrics Lead You Down the Wrong Path

by | Jan 28, 2020 | Strategy | 1 comment

Vanity metrics…we’ve heard so much about them, and the good news is that a lot of recent buzz suggests that marketers are understanding the value of deeper insights in social listening. Platforms such as Instagram are talking about doing away with the like button, in part so that marketers and influencers focus on engagement and learning the entire story over simply equating a lot of likes as a success.

Why is the shift from vanity metrics important? Simply put, vanity metrics are about YOU, not your audience, and they don’t always tell the entire story. 

They do serve a place in social strategy, no doubt. As far as strategy and engagement though, we’ve found that vanity metrics fall short. Here’s why:

  • They focus on brand content, not audience engagement
  • They are metrics that make you, as a brand, feel good about your work, but may not be effective in reaching your strategic goals
  • While they may make you feel good, they typically don’t impact your bottom line
  • These metrics tell you what, but not why

Here’s a pretty good, though basic example. Look at this picture:

This comes from a Facebook account for a thought leader in social research and intelligence. She consistently posts industry related content mixed with personal content, such as this image. She found that the image received more likes than anything she’s posted all month. It’s great that it got so much traction, but all she knows right now is that her audience really likes this, but doesn’t know much more than that. 

Should she count this as a success? Should she make the decision that this type of content is what her audience wants? Of course not, but if she was only focused on vanity metrics she may think that this is the case and change her content strategy, which could be detrimental to her overall strategic goals.

Another example you may or may not have heard of is “being ratioed.” Simply put, it refers to a tweet that has a disproportionate ratio of replies to likes & retweets, and typically means the author struck a nerve with a wide audience, it is controversial, or is a tweet that is perhaps being taken out of context. 

So, while you may see this and your heart starts beating a bit faster in anticipation of going viral, being ratioed is typically NOT a good thing. In this case, vanity metrics tell you that your content had a lot of traction, but until you look at it more closely, you don’t realize you may have just riled up the Twitterverse and now have to do some damage control.

So now what?

If vanity metrics are no longer cutting it, what metrics tell the rest of the story? Of course, as social media strategists, we know that the answer will depend on strategic goals. In some cases, vanity metrics may do the trick, but in other cases, it’s not enough. Below are some examples of deeper metrics that can tell the whole story and give the information needed to track KPI’s, evaluate goals, and help drive marketing decisions.

When likes don’t support ROI:  An older, but still relevant case study looked at a campaign H&M used to determine celebrity effectiveness. They chose four celebrities as potential endorsements and wanted to determine which of the four to go with. David Beckham’s content received the most likes; however, when looking closer at the conversations surrounding each celebrity, the brand found that more people who engaged with Beyonce’s content showed intent to purchase over the others. Had H&M only focused on vanity metrics to make a decision, they may have lost out on ROI opportunities. 

Looking at consumer commonality beyond your brand: Consumers are complex and likely share commonalities outside of liking your brand. Are they parents of young children? Do they tend to favor a specific sports team? Are they into certain tech products? 

Digging into interests outside of your brand can give additional marketing opportunities. Perhaps a good portion of your audience likes a specific sports team – there may be opportunity to cross promote or offer discounts/promotions based on the team’s performance, or you may reach out to the team’s marketing folks directly and work on a collaboration. It’s these outside interests that can give you opportunities while making your consumers feel more connected to you.

Stay focused, but embrace the rabbit holes: While focusing on data relevant to business goals, sometimes there’s a rabbit hole that leads to new opportunity. Case in point – research looking at consumers’ favorite type of pasta led to a new marketing opportunity. In looking at images that people posted showing their pasta meals, it was noticed that most times bottles of wine were included in images. Additional research looked at what types of wine were paired with different types of pasta. Great possibilities were now available – the brand could not only learn more about which pasta was more popular, but they were able to share wine pairings based on consumer preference, and also had opportunity to work with wine companies for cross marketing opportunities.

Vanity metrics have served us well, but they are just a start. Using actionable insights give the why behind the what and give a rich visual of what consumers are talking about, what they need, and how to engage most effectively. They can also drive marketing decisions and increase ROI in some cases. They may not be as ‘easy’ or ‘neat’ but are well worth the effort.

Author: Marianne Hynd, SMS

Marianne Hynd is the Director of Operations at the Social Media Research Association, a global trade organization dedicated to forming a community of researchers who aim to define & promote best practices and share ideas to help enhance the effectiveness and value of conducting research using social media.

Take a listen to the SMRA Podcast featuring fellow NISM board member, Joe Cannata.