vanity metricsBy Eleanor Pierce

The psychology of vanity metrics for social media isn’t terribly complicated.

I like an old quote from Jay Baer’s Convince and Convert:

“How much do you think we’d be talking about Twitter followers or Facebook likes if how many you have wasn’t attached to your public profile like a goiter?”

Like a goiter.

Thanks for that visual, Jay.

He goes on to say,

If on every website you visited you saw a number in the corner that showed how many email newsletter subscribers they had, we’d be putting a lot more emphasis into our email programs.

It’s true. But there’s more to vanity metrics than that.

Why We Love ‘Em

Here are three big reasons vanity metrics are so pernicious:

As Jay said, they’re visible.

How many Twitter followers we have is posted right there for all the world to see. Our fans, our employees, our clients, our competitors … they can all see many, though not all, of these vanity numbers.

They’re simple.

You know how to count Facebook page likes. Anyone can do it, and we all know what it means. The beauty and appeal of vanity metrics lie in their simplicity. “More than one billion served.” “40,000 likes.” The social proof is so powerful!

This is why your clients come to you and ask you to grow vanity metrics. Because they’re simple to understand.

They’re easy.

Figuring out which social networks drive quality traffic to your website is not as easy as counting retweets. Figuring out how many new clients you acquired through social media is more difficult than figuring out how many likes you have.

It’s natural that we default to what’s easier.

How We Will Kick the Habit

Of course these reasons don’t add up to an excuse to focus solely on vanity metrics. If we’re going to ensure communications is seen as an essential part of business, and not a “nice-to-have,” we must move beyond vanity metrics.

So what has to change in order for us to get there?

For one, as communicators, we just need to get better at analytics and measurement. Above all, we need to know how to both find and truly understand the ROI of our social media marketing efforts.

But we also need to get better at communicating and selling that value. For all the work we put into getting our clients’ messages right, we need to be just as careful with our client relations so that our clients understand why what we’re doing matters.

And that’s never easy. It’s often an uphill battle.

Will Vanity Metrics Really Disappear? (Spoiler Alert: No)

The truth is, those vanity metrics for social media aren’t going away. We can kick the habit of relying on them solely, but they won’t disappear.

Don’t think you can convince your clients to focus only on ROI and ignore the vanity metrics. You won’t be able to give up completely on tracking Facebook shares, Twitter mentions, and LinkedIn followers. You need both types of metrics. Because the visibility, the simplicity, and the ease of the vanity metrics means they’re not going anywhere.

They just can’t be the be-all, end-all of your social media measurement.

Eleanor Pierce

Eleanor Pierce is a recovering journalist who can't decide which part of the country to call home. She's happiest when she's reading, though she also really likes writing, baking, dogs, and sarcasm. No, seriously.

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