Ah vanity metrics! “How many likes did we get?” It’s a question anyone working in social media dreads and one that can make you a little crazy as a business owner.

Danielle from Greene Creatives recently asked me to be on an Instagram Live Q&A with her talking about vanity metrics, why they don’t define social media success and how do they fit into your social media strategy. You can catch-up on the live on Instagram and this blog is based on my answers to Danni’s questions.

Give me all the likes then!

Using any social media channel regularly can lead to a little bit of an obsession over the number of likes coming through for our content. And when that expertly-photographed and beautifully-filtered shot of our morning coffee only garners a handful of likes in the first hour of posting, it can fill us with insecurity and disappointment. 

This feeling can easily extend to the social posts we share as a business. And with company posts, it can feel like there’s even more at stake! If you’re only bringing in a handful of likes on each post and the odd follower now and again, your social media strategy isn’t working. Right…?!   

Well, take a breath my friends and let me help put your mind at ease – because the short answer is no, it doesn’t mean that at all.

If you’re stressing yourself out over likes and followers, it could be that you’re putting too much focus on vanity metrics.  

What are vanity metrics?

The easy answer is that vanity metrics are:

  • “likes” or the “heart” on any type of social media post
  • number of followers or page likes 

They’re the metrics that look good on paper and, taken at face value, can trick others (yourself included) into thinking you’re nailing this social media for business.

To be clear, vanity metrics and the content that drives those metrics play a part in a successful social media strategy. Just not in the way people think they do. And not in an obvious, “high numbers = high success rate” kind of way. 

The perceived value of vanity metrics

Being the most quickly captured, quantified and understood; vanity metrics provide us with an insight into how our social channels are doing but don’t provide anything near the whole picture.  

Vanity metrics feel good in the moment

Imagine sending a selfie to your mum, and she replies that you are looking beautiful. 

It’s super lovely, and we feel all gooey inside, but we also know (deep down) that she’s obviously, completely biased. 

But still, in that moment, we feel validated. 

When it comes to using social media for business, it’s the same deal. There can be a certain kind of vulnerability from posting on social media (even as a business owner), and seeing these vanity metrics helps alleviate our anxiety. 

Likes are coming in, so we did a good job. Phew!  

Sometimes, we just don’t get the other metrics 

Lack of understanding of any other kind of social media metric means focus can be more easily put on the like count. 

Throughout our lives, we are taught that high numbers equal success (rounds of golf and running events aside!) Because it’s what we know, it can feel comfortable automatically going to that place in the social media business game without giving any thought to strategy or business objectives. 

So, are vanity metrics completely useless?

Vanity metrics are not useless, but they do not equal the kind of success people think they do. 

High likes do not equal a successful social media platform or strategy. I know I have said that already, but based on the number of conversations I have with business owners on this, it really cannot be said enough. 

On a human level, a singular focus on vanity metrics causes frustration, lack of motivation, comparisonitis, and a load of other things that are counterproductive to our work and our sanity.

Bring this into the social media for business space, and this same singular focus gives you a skewed view of success where you’re focusing on surface-level engagement with your brand rather than the bigger picture.  

Equally, (and this is a big one) you do not have access to the behind-the-scenes Insights on another business’ account! So you looking at your competitors and thinking they are doing better than you with a bigger following or likes on a post is giving you zero insight into how their business is really, really doing.

Likes, comments and follower counts do not define a successful business or social media strategy. Your social media isn’t a single pillar in your marketing strategy, and an individual post’s performance isn’t indicative of a great piece of work or not. 

Tracking the right social media metrics for you

You need to start thinking about why you’re using social media for your business. 

Finding your purpose on social media starts with an excellent social media strategy. Nothing works better than that to keep you focused!

Once you have your strategy, spend time understanding all the metrics and insights and how they relate to that strategy. That way, you will know which ones are important to your business objectives and how the vanity metrics fit into that mix. 

Top tip: you will need to refer back to this strategy now and again when motivation is low and comparisonitis is high.

As an example, I would look at a combination of engagement and vanity metrics as a starting point. Then look at things like profile visits, website links and email / DM (direct message) enquiries. I use these numbers in combination with the likes of Google Analytics and then refer back to strategy and the content plan to tie it altogether and make decisions for moving forward into the next campaign or month of posts.

Engagement rate vs vanity metrics 

As an organic marketer, engagement rate and your community is always going to rate highly for me when it comes to social media success. 

And as the strategist in charge of your marketing, I’ll always look to measure success based on how your marketing mix feeds and serves your business objectives. 

We need vanity metrics to be able to make assumptions and run tests on the kind of content that really resonates with our target audience*. Still, the engagement rate and key actions taken from any post are what really count towards the success of a social media platform. 

For example, a sales or announcement post advertising a new product or service might get “low” likes on social media but generate a significant spike in website visits, a direct message enquiry or a sale. That’s a total win for a business if their objective is to increase sales! 

By comparison, a post that tells your audience about your new office pet will usually get mega high like numbers but deliver zero in terms of actual sales, enquiries and website visits. 

The magic and skill start to come in when you combine vanity and engagement metrics, making them both work hard towards delivering on your business objectives.

*your target audience is different to your actual audience or entire followers list, which is another reason why vanity metrics can be misleading

Social media metrics and your business

Hopefully, your biggest takeaway from this blog post is that a social media strategy is mega important, and understanding the role of data in that strategy is a big deal too.

I get that it starts to get a little confusing and mega hard work, but it’s worth knowing as a business owner that at some point you will be better placed doing what you are best at it and enlisting the help of someone who is best at using social media for business.

If you’d like to learn how to get started with this, you can read my “How to write your social media strategy” blog post or book a 1-2-1 session with me, where I’ll be happy to take you through the process.  And finally, if you’d like to build your knowledge of “Instagram for business“, my next workshop will take place online on Friday the 4th March from 9.30am.

See you on Instagram! #BirdandEmmy