​​You may have heard the term 'vanity metrics' but what exactly are they and why do you need to avoid them in your work as a public information officer?

Vanity metrics basics

Quite simply, these are the metrics or numbers that make you look good to others but do not help you understand your own performance in a way that informs future strategies.

These metrics are fun to look at if you want to give the impression that you're doing well on social or with campaigns, but they aren't particularly useful and are rarely something you can act upon if you're work is part of a bigger communication strategy.

A great example of a vanity metric would be Twitter followers. Just because you've got a whole influx of followers, it means nothing if;

  • They have no influence or insight in your local area
  • They never engage with your content
  • They are bots
  • They don't do something differently as a result of one of your tweets
  • They are following you just to get a follow back

Another example is sending out press releases by email. You may have sent them out to 1,000 email address but numbers aren't helpful if;

  • They had a high bounce rate
  • You couldn't tell if they clicked on a link in the release
  • You didn't receive any call backs
  • You can't see any generated media content that is positive or supportive of your release
  • It didn't generate any visits to your website

Vanity metrics are rarely taken seriously as they are simplistic to measure, they don't take context into account and are often misleading. Hundreds of people following your department's new Twitter account can be a fantastic ego boost, but followers don't mean much if they don't translate into a change in behavior or habit.

How can you turn it around and get actionable and informed metrics?

This is about the data you choose to look at. These three key points will help you decide where you can get some really useful information that can help you make your communication strategy more effective;

Is the data you are looking at a true reflection of what's really going on?

Examples of vanity metrics

Again, remember that any metric can be a vanity metric, it all depends on the analysis. However, below are some of the most common examples of metrics prone to being vanity metrics.

Page views

This is one of the most popular ones. On the surface, page views look great. “Look at all these people that are visiting our site!” Page views can be a useful metric if you can turn it into something actionable or show how it relates to your strategic comms goals. But by itself, with no context, it isn't meaningful. It’s more important to know who is visiting and what they are doing once they get there.

Alternatives: Instead of citing page views, focus on the quality and behavior of those views. Think about factors like bounce rate, time spent on page, sessions and pages per session, and click-through rate (CTR) on calls to action.

Consider the following:

  • Bounce rate
  • Time on page
  • Sessions
  • Unique users
  • Pages per session
  • Pages per user per month
  • Direct traffic

Look at an example of when you can prove success such as 'I sent out this press release and 85% of them read it, then 65% of it opened a link and then 25% called me to get further info which meant 25% of those featured our story.'

Social media followers

This is also a deceiving statistic and does not reflect the quality or impact of a social presence. Asking people to follow you just to get to 1,000 followers is a hollow metric that will waste time and question the authenticity of your brand.

Consider this instead;

Having a lot of followers can make you feel like a lot of people are interested in what you have, but better metrics might focus on traffic and engagement

What percentage of your followers are interacting with your agency? How many are following through to your site and becoming seeking out information? Try looking at the following:

  • Sessions from social
  • Click-through rate
  • Engagement per post/per follower
  • Sentiment analysis (if in law enforcement, be careful about this as the algorithms do not take into account the nuanced language used)
  • Mentions and shares from influential followers (local politicians, business owners, local media)

The bottom line

Metrics are about seeing what works and what doesn't so then you can adjust to improve the next time around. It's not about you having more followers than the next person on the training course. This is about ensuring you can provide the best service to those you serve through thoughtful, intentional and actionable communications, whatever the channel or platform

April 6, 2021

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