Vanity metrics are the top of the funnel

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About once per marketing conference, someone on stage derisively remarks about certain metrics as vanity metrics:

Twitter followers don’t matter.
Facebook Likes are unimportant.
Website visits don’t mean anything.
Who cares who re-Pinned you?

Now, imagine for a moment you owned a coffee shop. Inside you served the world’s best coffee, hand-picked single estate reserve beans custom-roasted on premises to perfection, made by baristas with doctorate degrees in chemistry. You track the number of people who purchase cups of coffee – a vitally important metric if you want to stay in business. One might call that a key performance indicator.

You track the number of people who walk into your shop, and separate those people into folks who buy and folks who don’t buy. These are important diagnostic metrics to understand; if no one buys, you’re going out of business.

A vanity metric might be the number of people who walk past your shop and wave hello.
A vanity metric might be the number of people who check in on the location-based service of your choice.
A vanity metric might be the number of people who retweet your coffee specials.

Do these metrics matter? Yes. They’re at the very top of the funnel. They’re proxies for attention.

Spiders in the funnel

If no one ever walks past your shop, certainly no one’s walking in it.

Attention is the very top of the funnel, and vanity metrics hint at whether you’re capturing any attention at all. If no one can even be bothered to press the Like button, what are your chances of convincing them to make a purchase?

Should these metrics be your goals? Of course not. Measuring the success of your marketing on attention only is foolish. Those who criticize marketers for such measurement have valid reasons to do so.

The bottom line on vanity metrics is this: if your business isn’t getting attention, you’re probably not generating any business. Measure the entire funnel, not just the bottom!

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