Vanity is Calamity, the Quicksand of Reason

10 Sep 2020 6:00 pm

Vanity is the quicksand of reason.

The French novelist Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin wrote that, “Vanity is the quicksand of reason.” It’s a quote all communicators need to remember, as it is especially relevant to the contagion in our profession called “vanity metrics.”

You know what we’re talking about: likes and followers, impressions, advertising value equivalencies. These charming stats sure look and feel impressive - at a glance. But they quickly prove to be rather anemic when faced with even a small dose of serious inquiry.

As such, when we share vanity metrics, we damage the credibility of our industry—and even our own professional reputations. We must all commit to putting vanity metrics in their proper place.

Quick, Simple and Free


We communicators too often lean on vanity metrics, not because we’re lazy or are trying to deceive anyone, but rather because we’re often asked to offer up data in a hurry. That’s part of the allure of vanity metrics data such as social media likes and website pageviews: they’re easy to find and measure, simple to understand and provided free-of-charge within their native publishing platform.

Quick, simple and free. This speaks volumes about the true value of vanity metrics. Though they seem to convey something meaningful, more often than not, they’re an illusion, a mirage - quicksand that is far too easy to get stuck in—and they don’t shed much light on what to do next. As business author Tim Ferris put it: “Vanity metrics: good for feeling awesome, bad for action.”

Identifying Actionable Insights


For example, take the number of likes or followers on one of your social media channels. The number may feel big and perhaps it’s even meaning fully larger than your competitors’. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, and it’s something to feel good about it - but maybe not for long.

Here’s why: followers are not necessarily customers or even prospects. Lots of people could follow your brand on social media because of its helpful or entertaining content, but not have any intention of actually buying your product or service. Which would you rather have: 10,000 followers and 100 customers or 1,000 followers and 500 customers?

This gets at precisely why more meaningful metrics are necessary to build the brands we serve and to demonstrate our value as communicators. In the preceding example, we would need to dig deeper and analyze more thoroughly in order to connect the dots between followers and engagement, between followers and the cost to acquire them, between followers and purchases.

The same point applies to the analysis of earned media results as well. Yes, it can be fun to tally up the total audience reach of a media relations campaign, particularly when those numbers get into the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. (Who doesn’t love a feature story in USA Today?!)But, regardless of how big the number, what does it really mean? Once again, not much as the number of digits may initially suggest.

Imagine sharing total audience reached data with, say, your CMO or CEO. She’s likely to be pleased with the overall reach of your media relations efforts. But she’s also likely to ask questions such as: How many of those media outlets actually reach our target audience? How many of those articles appeared in countries or regions in which we offer our services? How many articles were positive in their sentiment and reflected our key message? Did we see a lift in sales, social media or website traffic during the campaign?

These are the answers, the metrics, that really matter - and the sort of ones we communicators should be focused on.

After all, metrics become dramatically more meaningful when they are actionable. This is data that illuminates, that has real, lasting value beyond a “feel good” moment in time—the kind of data no quicksand can pull under. And the good news is that Nexis Newsdesk™ can help you prepare and analyze such meaningful metrics.

Moving Beyond Vanity Metrics


Determining which metrics to establish, track and analyze is a matter of asking yourself what your communication efforts are intended to accomplish in the first place. If the end goal is, say, more readership of your email newsletter, then simply noting how many newsletters you distribute each week misses the mark. You not only want to know how many newsletters were sent, but how many we’re opened and, better still, how many people clicked through to online content and, even better still, how many engaged with the content by reading it in full, commenting on it, opting to purchase or clicking deeper into your website.

Yes, these more meaningful metrics take extra time, thought, and very often, budget. But it’s worth the effort because you end up with data that you can then set about monitoring and improving.

Furthermore, it allows you to more accurately track the return on your staff, strategy and budgetary investments. And that engenders respect (and gratitude) from company leadership because your metrics are clearly tied to activities that build the bottom line. This can do nothing but boost our profession - and your career.

Moving beyond vanity metrics will help you sleep well knowing you didn’t take the easy way out but wrestled with the hard stuff that’s necessary to build the brand you were hired to serve. And unlike surface-only metrics that don’t impress for long you’ll be equipped to demand more budget to put to work gaining greater returns.

Ready to avoid vanity calamity? Be sure to download our free new ebook: “From Media Metrics to Media Insights: How to Prove Value in PR with Advanced Measurement and Evaluation” or contact a Nexis Newsdesk™ expert to learn more today.

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