The other day, I attended a great webinar sponsored by Social Media Today on the subject of allocating resources in marketing strategies. While a ton of great points were made throughout the presentation, one point in particular really caught my attention: too many companies are focusing on vanity metrics.
Vanity metrics is a term used in marketing that refer to a key performance indicator (KPI) that is tracking something superficial. Some marketers would refer to things as likes, comments, and shares as vanity metrics, as they do not always convert into sales. However, later on in the webinar, both Don Bulmer and Monica Peterson brought up how their goal for Shell and Toyota respectively were to lead conversations and engage with communities. And while I’m sure they would like social media to contribute to sales at both companies, these aren’t brands that have to rely heavily on social media for advertising as most everyone is aware these companies exist.
If you’re seeing the disconnect between the beginning of that paragraph and the end, you’re not alone. In fact, I even tweeted as such during the webinar:
— Joshua Duke (@joshmduke) August 12, 2014
Obviously, Toyota and Shell are larger sized companies than what most of us are used to dealing with. Both are juggernauts in their industries, yet both also face stiff competition from rival companies of similar sizes. So are conversations a vanity metric? Or are they a goal that companies should strive for?
In my opinion, conversations are vital to growing a business of any size, but only when your brand has received enough recognition in your target audience should you shift the message away from conversion to conversation creation.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to wait until your company goes international and nets a few hundred million in profit. Your target audience should always be expanding, but your community doesn’t necessarily have to. Every community, regardless if it’s a small town or large city, has local favorites that dominate their respective industries. If you have hit critical mass of exposure in your community, you don’t need to keep pushing sales. Instead, you should switch tactics and start devoting time to talking about:
- Company philosophy
- Hot-button issues in your industry
- Community issues
- Everyday company culture
- Community outreach events
Once you’re not posting to generate more sales or conversions, the idea is you want your business to be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about a particular subject. You want word association. For instance, Coke doesn’t need to generate more sales, but they also spend a ton on advertising. That has paid off for them: when I think of soda, I think of Coke. When I think of diet soda, I think of Diet Coke or Coke Zero. Many of us experience the same thing.
Obviously, most of us don’t work for a company like Coca-Cola, Shell, or Toyota, but that doesn’t mean that we all need to focus our social strategy on generating new business. Some of us have made it to the point where we want to focus away from sales and generate more of those “vanity metrics” because conversations carry currency—conversations can be an appropriate goal and not just a means to achieve sales. By dominating and creating conversations, you can establish your business as a synonym of your industry in your local community—and then grow from there.