Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Danger of Blindly Chasing Marketing Metrics

Data is powerful. It drives the scientific process. It helps us cut through the amorphousness of anecdotal insights so that we can base judgments and decisions on concrete, verifiable information. At the same time though, data can be manipulated. So for as much as we look to data to tell us the real story about a study, or in our case a marketing effort, we should have the presence of mind to see the big picture that data fits into.

If the sole purpose of your communications efforts is to boost metrics, you end up chasing numbers, not people.

For example, the photo above appeared on my LinkedIn feed today, and I've seen variations of this "challenge" on Facebook pages for a variety of brands. Even though the tactic is aging, it is still an effective way to inflate metrics. People respond (for some reason), throwing in their one word replies in quick succession. With this activity, engagement and traffic metrics go up, so at the end of the month when the communications manager develops her report, she can point to the boost as evidence of her doing a good job.

"Look at how many comments we got!"

But it's meaningless engagement. The discussion isn't relevant to the brand, and even though people are participating, it's mostly mindless. There is no value.

And most marketers would agree, but meaningless engagement can come in more convincing disguises. As an example, when I launched a crowd funding campaign to launch a book project with a friend, we ran a giveaway via his Facebook page. The post received 116 likes, 127 comments, and 11 shares, making it one of his most active posts ever. Despite the jump in metrics, however, we lost money on the giveaway. We didn't receive a single contribution from the effort. Not one. The metrics looked great, but the activity constituted zero value for the brand or for our efforts.

Even a simple metric like the size of your audience, whether it's based on web traffic or the number of your Facebook likes, can become useless if your focus is exclusively on making the number go up. To return to the Facebook example, mindlessly buying likes can certainly make a page look good, but it can hurt your ability to communicate with the people that actually care about what you do.

And that's what the real focus should be: communicating with the people that care in a meaningful way. If you use metrics as a tool for measuring how well you've done that, you are on the right track because your data is grounded in the right context. Statements along the lines of "We need more likes" or "Our reach is down 5%" or "We need to make 10 posts a week" are symptoms of metric-chasing.

Instead, pursue the meaningful. Give your audience relevant, worthwhile content. Make metrics a tool for accomplishing that goal rather than the goal itself.

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