How to avoid vanity metrics when measuring Social Media (and what to use instead)

How to avoid vanity metrics when measuring Social Media (and what to use instead)

Fiona Eriksen-Coats, Oxford College of Marketing

Submitted by; Fiona Eriksen-Coats, Oxford College of Marketing (, Post published; 9th May 2019

Social media is an increasingly popular channel for digital marketing activities. It’s ability to reach wide audiences, in a targeted and engaging way, has encouraged many organisations to build this channel into their digital marketing plans

Social media can help drive awareness, drive brand engagement and has a lot more offer – but how do we know that we are using the right measures to track its success?

Like so many digital channels, there are a host of measures available, but it is key to avoid what we call ‘vanity metrics’. Vanity metrics are things you can measure that do not matter. They’re easily changed or manipulated, and they don’t bear a direct correlation which would lead to business success.

Aligning Measures With Business Goals

When setting up your measures to better understand your social media effectiveness, it is important to always refer back to your goals – what exactly are you trying to achieve? Engagement with your brand? Increased website traffic? Awareness through word of mouth? Increased sales conversions or leads? These will help target and ‘whittle down’ which measures to put in place for your campaign.

For example, it’s easy to start to track the number of ‘likes’, but if they don’t actually lead to an increase in awareness or sales which may be a key goal, then why track them? Vanity metrics tend to include data such as social media followers, page views, subscribers, and other metrics that are satisfying on paper but don’t impact your business goals. They offer positive reporting, but no context for future marketing decisions – something actionable metrics can do.

Avoiding Vanity Metrics – Other Metrics To Consider

Volume: The first – and easiest – social media metric to measure. It is important to count tweets and posts, particularly if you want to understand awareness and reach. But within this, you need to measure the number of messages about your brand, as well as the number of people talking about your brand, and track how both of those numbers change over time.

Reach: This measures the spread of a social media conversation and how relevant your content is. Reach is a measure of potential audience size. It is recommended you pick important action or engagement numbers like clicks, retweets, or replies and divide them by reach to calculate an engagement percentage. Of the possible audience for your campaign, how many people actually participated? Reach helps to contextualise other engagement metrics.

Engagement: One of the most popular areas to measure in social media as it shows how people are participating in the conversation about your brand and what they are doing to spread your content message. Facebook shares and posts and Twitter retweets (RTs) are helpful to know who is spreading your content, while comments, replies and likes are helpful to see who is replying to your content. Again, go back to your social media goals when choosing your engagement metrics. Are you focused more on generating interaction (replies, comments) or on spreading a message (retweets and posts)?

Share of Conversation: Aim to understand how the conversation about your brand compares to conversations about your competitors, calculate what percentage of the overall conversation about your industry is focused on your brand compared to your main competitors. Social media is a public platform and a wealth of information is available to compare your performance vs your competitors.

Influence: Identify who is talking about your brand and what kind of impact they have. What is the quality of the message? Do they have traffic driving links? What % does this account for within total traffic, what is the conversion of this traffic?


The next time you are setting up a social media campaign, rather than just dusting off the old tracking spreadsheet, make sure you take a step back, review your campaign goals. Ensure you avoid vanity metrics and instead, select the right metrics that will drive business growth as well as supporting your digital marketing goals.

If you want to learn more about how to measure social media, our Social Media Marketing module from our Diploma in Digital Marketing may be of interest to you. It can be studied as a single award or as part of our wider Diploma. To find out more, meet one of our representatives at any marketingSHOWCASE event.

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