Empty Metrics are Dangerous Metrics

There’s nothing worse than dead, tense air on a client conference call. But a few years ago, that’s what I was listening to. We were working with a billion-dollar company that had designed a Facebook page to engage millennial females around some narrative and corporate social responsibility work it was doing around the world. The firm had engaged a New York PR firm under a high-dollar retainer to help it grow and engage the audience. The fan count quickly swelled to over eighty thousand. But our (prospective) client wasn’t getting action on its page. A slick, expensive graphic would drop and two people would like it. Infographics might see one share, or none at all. The client was frustrated.

Through the process of solving the client’s problem — quick to diagnose, hard to fix — we realized how easy it is to get lost in ‘data’ and lose sight of its meaning. This often starts with too much focus on the wrong data sets, or a misunderstanding of social media’s potential. Numbers are everywhere in social. But they only become valuable when we have a shared clarity about who we want to reach and what we want them to do. Data on its own is really empty (the brand’s fan count, by the way, was meaningless because they were the wrong fans: wrong age, wrong country, wrong gender). Eventually, this experience helped us develop the foundation of our standard monthly metrics report. The report details two things: Metrics and KPIs.

Metrics are standard social media health indicators. We rely on three core metrics to gauge audience health: Audience (Size and Demographic/Psychographic Makeup), Reach (Paid and Organic), and Engagement Rate (how many audience members react to, comment on, retweet, share, or otherwise engage with a brand post — we’ll also report engagement rate within a landscape, to show our clients how they benchmark against their competitors).

KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) are unique to each client. A college might be concerned about lowering its cost per lead for potential new students. An advocacy organization might be worried about reach, and want to measure how many targeted individuals receive its message on a particular day. A brand might wants to drive sales. A nonprofit might want people to RSVP for its events. We report on these KPIs each month, and provide additional insights about what’s working, what isn’t, and how we can improve together.

With the modern emphasis on ‘big data’ and ‘quants’ in communications, brands can sometimes fall into the trap of over-reliance on numbers. This is obviously problematic. But one of social media’s greatest strengths is its ability to provide immediate, real results. We don’t have to run an additional survey to measure ‘intent’ — we can look at clickthrough rates or new lead numbers or event signups in real time, drive our costs down using split testing, and refine a set of extremely targeted messages in real time. When you combine Metrics with KPIs, you’re measuring the human behaviors that actually matter to your brand. And that’s pretty compelling.