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The Difference Between Vanity and Actionable Metrics

We all want to be liked, even when it comes to our social media. However, you can’t put a like in the bank. Likes are necessary as steps on the ladder to social media success, but we can’t stop there. We must progress towards more substantive metrics that provide actionable insights and relate to business outcomes.

Let me be clear. Fans, followers and likes are valuable metrics, even if they are often referred to as vanity metrics. The more fans and followers we have, the greater our brand and content’s potential and awareness. The same goes for likes.

What those metrics do not tell us is whether or not people visited our website, consumed our content, or if they are willing to transact with us. A business has objectives and social media marketing is merely one area meant to support them but focusing solely on vanity metrics won’t get you the results you are looking for.

Consider dividing your activities into three buckets or categories - Community, Content and Conversion - what I like to call the three C’s of social media ROI.


Vanity metrics such as fans and followers are important, but they are not the only social media metric of importance. Growing fans and followers is still a necessary pursuit because it leads to increased awareness and reach, but you can’t stop there. Regardless of how an account gets presented to a potential follower, it still comes down to whether or not they see value or become interested in becoming a follower. You need to convey value, so they see what is in it for them very clearly.


You are not going to get a home run with every piece of content, but the goal is to cumulatively grow engagement over time. Social behaviour varies from platform to platform and what works on one may not work on another. Furthermore, content performance can vary, and subjectivity can influence interest and engagement.

Likes are the easiest type of engagement to get but they are not enough. Ideally, you want to see additional indicators that your content is resonating, such as comments and shares. Those require more effort and commitment but if you are able to garner those types of responses, then you are producing content that is engaging your audience.

Predicting what content will engage and to what degree is challenging. The data you compile over time allows you to determine trends and to get a sense of the content types and formats that garner engagement.

Try different topics/themes and experiment with formats and scheduling to see what does and doesn’t work for engagement. Social media requires constant testing and measurement to inform adjustments to strategy.


Fans, followers and likes are fundamental metrics for social media success but ultimately conversion is the metric most closely aligned with business objectives. A conversion is basically an action taken by a person in response to your call-to-action (CTA). That could be asking someone to register for your webinar, sign up for your newsletter, or actually buy something based on your prompting. The goal of organic and paid campaigns is to drive a response to a call-to-action that results in a desirable outcome for the organization such as newsletter signups, content downloads, or webinar registrations.

I often get the question of whether or not social media has ROI. My answer is yes but I qualify it to say that it just has to be designed into your strategy. That is why you need to have clearly defined corporate objectives that you can align with your social media strategies and tactics. Work back from the desired outcomes to determine where and how social media can play a role.

You also want to make sure you all agree on the definitions of what you are measuring and how. For example, metrics can vary from platform to platform, so you want to determine metrics and definitions common to all so that it is an “apples to apples” comparison. We were tasked with measuring engagement across LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. We chose to go with Engagement Rate by Impression which was common to all three platforms.

Your stakeholders are not going to stop being interested in vanity metrics. Confirm their value and contribution towards business objectives but ensure that they understand what the more substantive metrics and actionable insights like click-through rates (CTR), downloads, registrations and conversions mean to your marketing strategies and business objectives.

Marketers are accountable for performance. A like is only going to get you so far. Key stakeholders like your colleagues in sales are going to want to see leads. Senior leadership is going to want to see revenue. You need to ensure your social media marketing efforts are laddering up to those types of outcomes. A like may get you a pat on the back but it isn’t going to buy you a coffee.

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