In defence of ‘vanity metrics’…

Last week I turned 28, which came as a bit of a shock to me as I was still coming to terms with turning 27.

While I was a little unnerved that my birthday had snuck up on me so soon after its last appearance, I did take a small degree of solace in the fact that my age means nothing. It doesn’t tell you anything important about Matt Briggs. It says nothing about my likes and my dislikes. When the clock ticked over my personality didn’t change. I sit here exactly the same person that I was a little over seven days ago, when I was still a fresh faced 27 year old.

But for all of that it’s still an interesting piece of information. While you can derive no certainties about me from it, the knowledge that I’m a lot closer to 30 than I would like to be allows you to begin to build a picture. Maybe it’ll even allow you can take an educated guess about my marital status, living situation or even something as minor as the social platforms I use.

I began working in communications when I was 21. Since then the narrative around digital has moved on and we, quite rightly, no longer obsess about followers or likes. We know we need to demonstrate value. A huge amount has been written to try and persuade people to disregard ‘vanity metrics’ entirely and focus on what matters (I should know, I’ve been the author of some of it). Just like my age, these numbers won’t tell you the full story.

Does that mean they’re completely useless? Not necessarily. When analysed correctly they too can help build a picture. On their own followers, likes, retweets are not an indicator of quality, nor should they be a measure success, but they do allow you to get a quick idea of the lay of the land.

They can also prove useful when getting early buy-in from those who aren’t au fait with digital. It can take a little time to establish a framework for formal evaluation that demonstrates the impact on an organisation’s bottom line. In the mean time vanity metrics can act as a useful informal measurement tool, provided it’s communicated that they are not the be all and end all.

It goes without saying that once a proper method of evaluation is in place this sort of metric takes a back seat. But until then don’t castigate the poor old vanity metric. It might not mean much, but we can still find a use for them.