Debunking the Vanity Metrics Myth

by · August 30, 20137 comments

Last December, HBR published a post titled “Why Your Social Media Metrics Are a Waste of Time,” in which the author referred to social media metrics as “false idols of analytics.” While she did, in fact, make a few valid points, her blanket unfavorable statement really fires me up, as I believe it negates the true potential that social media offers when it comes to driving revenue.

Let’s start at what I believe to be the root of the problem here. Social media metrics used to be referred to as “vanity metrics” because there were shrouded in mystery when it came to tying them to anything useful, especially driving revenue. Those days are over and social media metrics are now vital for companies to monitor just as closely as the hard-core revenue metrics. So, with all due respect to the author, if she doesn’t understand how these channels can contribute to a company’s sales pipeline, and ultimately cross sell and upsell its current customers, her statement is groundless. Without solid reasoning, she shouldn’t discourage others from monitoring these metrics.

Some organizations, including perhaps the author’s, aren’t seeing great results using social media metrics because they don’t know how to use the metrics efficiently and/or don’t invest the necessary time into the correct practice. Anyone involved with social as a sales and marketing channel should know by now that social is not a magical solution to more sales. But, as we’ve learned from case studies and a ton of trial and error, social is a fantastic addition to almost any overall marketing strategy, and will only become more important as the world’s best marketers continue to move towards more fully-integrated marketing campaigns.

So don’t listen to those who say social isn’t effective for lead generation, sales acceleration, and driving revenue. Chances are, the naysayers are just turned off because they’ve failed miserably at executing social and/or they’ve discovered that it simply didn’t work for their product or service. Sure, failure is possible, but when I see brands enjoying success through social with some of the most boring products in the world, I tend to think that those who blame social for their own failures just don’t want to admit that they prefer to focus their efforts elsewhere.

Metrics for the C-Suites, and Metrics for the Rest of Us

In addition to making a grossly unfair sweeping statement, the author also briefly defined “four of the most important metrics you can follow” — relevant revenue, sales volume, customer retention and relevant growth — and then asked readers to “notice how little they have to do with popular social media metrics.” She claimed that to measure the value of your social media activities “you have to look at the results the company is getting overall and track how social media was involved in moving the needle.” Doing that, she believes, is how you’ll find “the only relevant social media metrics.”

What? The only relevant social media metrics? For whom? Everyone? Not quite.

This argument is best addressed with the captain of the ship analogy. The captain of the ship (your CXO’s) only care about two things; where the ship is heading, and how do we get there. But down in the boiler room of the ship are the practitioners (marketing teams) with a laundry list of important things that have to happen in order for any charter to be successful. This is where you as a marketer must be asking the right questions to determine how social is affecting the course of the ship.

The questionnaireHere is a laundry list of questions that you should be actively seeking answers to in order to provide “Relevant” social media metrics.

  1. How is my content performing?
  2. Is anyone talking about my company, brand or product?
  3. Are they saying good or bad things? (Let’s not forget the power of peer to peer when it comes to social, as it’s headed in this direction anyway).
  4. How many people are discussing problems that my product or service can help solve?
  5. How many people are recommending my product or service?
  6. How do I know what type of content most interests my customers or prospects?
  7. How do I get my content in front of these folks when they are doing their research?
  8. How do I know if my social channels are referring quality leads?
  9. How are these social touchpoints affecting my sales cycles?

Those of us who analyze social media know that it’s time consuming. So it’s no real surprise to learn that when busy marketers don’t see immediate results, they often write social off and give up on trying to prove its value. But that needs to change, because social metrics are extremely important signals that play into Google’s algorithm for improved rankings. To ignore these metrics would be to also ignore the SEO value attributed to each. As Google continues to take these social signals into consideration for rankings, marketers sure as hell better have a good idea of who their influencers are and how they are interacting with brand content.

The best marketers today have two sets of metrics: one set for determining overall strategy, providing customer and prospect insights, and telling Google how serious you are about your content; and the hard core sales and revenue metrics that your CXOs love, which track social as a lead source and touchpoints across the sales funnel. At the end of the day, you need to be measuring both.

As long as you track lead source and use a multi-touch attribution model within your marketing software, you can also track lead quality, pipeline, and revenue. With the right software in place, you can even forecast the contribution that social channels will provide in the future.

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About Jason Miller

Jason Miller

Jason Miller is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at Linkedin focusing on Marketing Solutions. Previously he was the Senior Manager, Social Media Strategy at Marketo. He was responsible for leading the company's social media efforts by increasing engagement, optimizing for lead generation, and ultimately driving revenue. He is also a content creator specializing in visual content marketing.

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • JaneGarthson

    Wonderful post, Marc. I wish everyone working to create a better world would notice this, and join us, so we can have that world sooner! if you are reading this and haven’t yet been to the Creating the Future web site, check out the Participate and Education options – you’ll be so glad you did.

    And while the organization is based in the US, there are people from UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Israel and probably more involved. It’s the WORLD we are talking about here!

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  • SunriseGuidedVisual

    Oh, calendars are such an essential component! Thank you!

  • Kendall

    The editorial calendar! I’ve been saying this for years but I keep getting push back. THANK YOU for legitimizing my idea, I’ll be sure to pass this around at the next strategy meeting.

  • http://www.jugarjugar.net/ Jugar Jugar

    Define your strategy and the way it continues to expand towards improving your communication plan to promote the company’s image, in the heart of your business

  • James Terenciuk

    For a small/medium business I think its hard to pick which ones to invest time into…building a good facebook page was a good move for me (I think) haha.