The Unfortunate Validation of Vanity Metrics

Judging folks based on possessions is something we just do. No, it’s not right but that’s just how it is. We are constantly bombarded by flashy reality television shows flaunting über fancy “cribs” and cars. We’re told through advertising that if we don’t have the latest iPhone, iPad and matching Mac Book Pro … well, then, you ain’t cool. As a culture, we’ve always been concerned with “the haves.”

But, over the last few years, as social media becomes a bigger part of our culture and lives, an interesting shift has occurred in how we are viewing status symbols. There’s a new dimension to what people are paying attention. On top of status is based on worldly possessions, we’re now judging people based on virtual followings. Kim Kardashian, for example, is rarely mentioned in the tabloid magazines without including that she has 11.5 million Twitter followers. She is looked at as more of a legitimate celebrity simply for having a massive online following.

This new status measurement is also used with digital marketers and brands. Twitter followers, Facebook fans, and Klout scores are used as a quick barometer for how competent individuals are and how well brands are doing. Marketers are the first to jump for excitement when they reach a high number of Facebook fans as if they’ve achieved validation for success. Social media blogs write stories about what brands have the most fans and followers.

We seem to have replaced “keeping up with the Joneses” with “keeping up with the @kardashians.” And the culprit responsible is what we call vanity metrics.

There is a certain segment of social media metrics that we often use as a measurement of businesses’ success. These metrics are called vanity metrics, and marketers are hypnotized by them. Vanity metrics are numbers that most marketers focus on because they look great in press releases, but they don’t necessarily affect overall marketing or business goals.

The term vanity metrics was coined by Eric Ries and made popular by his book, The Lean Startup. They are defined as numbers that might make you feel good, but they don’t offer clear guidance for what your business should or should not do in the future. Their intense focus is a big reason why social media ROI is difficult for most brands to judge. Vanity metrics do not necessarily correlate with other measurable numbers that really do matter for your business. These growth metrics can often be signs of traction (which is why they should be monitored), but it is important to distinguish between these vanity metrics and real digital metrics, like conversation rates.

A brand with a huge online following can be less successful than a smaller following of passionate and raving customers. Follower counts alone do not help to evaluate whether or not your strategy is working. They are no indication that your competition is doing better or worse than you. These metrics should be watched, but you should not to be fooled by them.

Moral of the story is to not get swept up in the hype of who has more. Businesses would be wise to quit trying to keep up with the @kardashians and, instead, focus on keeping up with the strategy.

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Scott S Bishop
Scott S. Bishop is editor for Real Time Marketer and a marketing strategist with a specialty in social media. He is an avid blogger and active across the net. He is @thescottbishop on Twitter
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