So what if someone likes you? Coming to terms with vanity metrics

Photo by Greg Montana at

I came across the concept of “vanity metrics” for the first time the other day. It captured my attention. Was this an underhanded way of poking fun at our obsession with likes and friends on social media? The term seemed to be too mainstream to be the case! As someone interested in how social media can serve the specific mission of nonprofits, I wanted to better understand this concept.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines vanity as “an inflated pride in oneself or one’s appearance and as something that is vain, empty or valueless”. A metric is “a standard of measurement”. Accordingly, a vanity metric is an attempt to measure one’s inflated pride in one’s own appearance. Ouch. That’s got to hurt. Or does it?

I discovered the term in the context of blog posts on the topic of nonprofits trying to grapple with what constitutes successful use of social media. While boards of directors and those controlling the purse strings seem to view success in terms of an increase in “likes” and “traffic”, those engaged on the ground of the nonprofits know that more likes does not simply equal success. One article stated the conundrum simply: “How do we get our board or senior staff off their addiction to the wrong metrics, like views?”   Vanity metrics are the simplest things to measure and quantify, but we should not stop there.

Beth Kanter, co-author of the book Measuring the Network Nonprofit: Using Data to Change the World (2012), argues that the onus is on you to show the connection between the metrics and what matters most to your nonprofit. To overcome what she calls the “trap of vanity metrics”, Kanter recommends that we begin by questioning our data with an open , non-vain (i.e. humble) mind. In front of the numbers, ask yourself : so what? And repeat this two more times. Saying So What To Your Data Three Times will help you go to the heart of the changes- both positive and negative- to determine as far as possible the lasting effects of them on your nonprofit. There is an uptick in Facebook traffic. So what? Is it significant? Did more traffic actually lead to more donations? Let’s take another example. Your nonprofit was mentioned on Twitter. So what? There was more traffic to your site. So what? Did the mention on Twitter which drew attention to your website actually cause anyone to stay a while and visit your site? Did anyone sign up for your newsletter? By engaging with your data, you can better show the relevance between what is vain or immediate and what is the lasting meaning behind it.

Picking up the same theme, Julia Campbell writes in How to Measure Nonprofit Social Media Success and Document Results that it is important for nonprofits to clarify the difference between vanity metrics and what she calls “goal specific metrics“. She recommends that goals specific metrics are decided ahead of time by your organization in three easy steps:

  1. Determine your specific social media goals.
  2. Identity the specific tasks you will do to achieve each goal.
  3. Write down the metrics that you will measure to evaluate the relative success of each goal.

If you can clarify what your nonprofits goals are for your engagement on social media, these will be more easy to evaluate when looking at the data. You and your board of directors will be less easily seduced by vanity metrics and more able to see what is going on beneath the surface where it really matters. As Jane Austen says, “Vanity working on a weak head produces every sort of mischief.” The last thing we want is mischief, no one like trouble! So let’s be humble and inquisitive in front of our social media data.

Twitter: Someone likes you? So what! Confronting Vanity Metrics

Facebook: 3 Tips to Dig Deeper into Vanity Metrics for Nonprofits.

Please and Thank You: Do Good Manners Matter on Social Media?

Photo by Nicholas J. Leclercq on Unsplash

One of the first thing we teach our children is to say please and thank you.

We naturally introduce them to the norms of interacting with other human being: thanksgiving and respect. We still do this even though we are painfully aware of the darker sides of human interaction. Bullying, competition and power might be words that round out how we tend to interact with each other, especially when this communication is mediated through the anonymity of social media.

Are good manners still relevant on social media? 2020 revealed a lot of tension and division on social media. Political and civil unrest dominated the Twitter sphere. Are we naive to even ask this question about manners in 2021?

Search Google for “good manners on social media” and you will discover that it is a very relevant topic. Lists of dos and don’ts, articles about the financial and social payback of positive customer engagement, and descriptions of appropriate personal and business netiquette abound.

Do you have a personal code of netiquette? Have you ever discussed norms around social media usage in your place of work? Do you have a corporate code of netiquette?

I thought this article on the value of a universal code of conduct for engaging in social media was interesting. It advocates for a deeply human and respectful engagement on social media and for a fair, reasonable and open analysis of facts and opinions. Pope Francis, the spiritual leader of the Catholic Church and one of the most influential world figures on Twitter, wrote it. In 10 suggested principles and practices, it presents a vision of how social media can be used to promote and enhance dialogue among people who may hold very different opinions. It invites us to engage as adults with the earliest lessons we learned at home, the rules of please and thank you and I’m sorry.

The latest research backs up this point as well. The qualities that make for great customer engagement all point to the value of good manners: trust, feeling part of the family, corporate responsibility and excellent customer service.

Personally, I think it is important to have conversation with your coworkers about expectations on shared business social media accounts. These conversations can help generate a sense of common ownership and responsibility, and ultimately a communal voice that you can not only be confident in but also proud of.

How can you begin this sort of conversation? What has been your experience? Why not start by clarifying the personality you desire your business or organization to have. On Social Media Explorer, Stephanie Schwab suggests clarifying your social media brand voice by starting with the 4 characteristics of character, tone, language and purpose. This chart presents a helpful breakdown of different personas and qualities that you may want to develop:

These sorts of basic conversations are necessary as customers have high expectations when it comes to online engagement.

Let’s rise to their expectations, and show them the best of ourselves along the way! This will be a win-win situation for the business and the customer. And why not take a minute to thank our parents for teaching us the basics of please and thank -you while we’re at it.

Share on Facebook: How’s your netiquette? The benefits of being cordial on social media.

Share on Twitter: #1 Lesson from Mom and Dad to bring to Twitter.

Finding Your Nonprofit Niche on Social Media

Social Media, Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook, Pinterest
Image by Kevin Phillips from Pixaby

Nonprofits are in the business of vision. We inspire, uplift and support people and communities. We desire to make a difference in our neighbourhoods.

There is an ancient proverb that says “Without a vision, the people will perish.

However, with limited resources- both human and financial- the desire and energy to engage with social media can easily dwindle and be placed on the back burner to more pressing concerns. We tackle the immediate needs that come our way first. Before you know it, another year passes with very little engagement on your social platforms. The amazing and successful year you had- for example, the lives touched, the miracles witnessed, and the success of your programs- is celebrated by your few intimate collaborators and benefactors, but it mostly goes unnoticed and unappreciated by anyone not paying close attention.

If this is the case, are we really being good stewards of our vision? Are we adapting to or ignoring the potential of social media to be a new medium of “vision creation”?

The experience of many successful nonprofits reveals that it is a win-win when they adapt to social media. By taking the time to curate their story and share their vision on social media, they reach and inspire a broader audience who then promotes and supports their mission. L’Arche Canada is a great example of this as they challenge people’s perceptions of disability through their Face Off with Exclusion story-telling campaign. These experience might be best expressed in an updated proverb: “Without a vision, the people will perish…and without social media, a non-profit will perish.”

What are some of the most common reasons that non-profits give for not fully engaging with social media?

The first is not knowing how to use social media to the advantage of your nonprofit. Mimicking the social media strategies of Kim Kardashian or Doritos or Bud Light will simply not work for you. An excellent resource that can help you identify your unique place on social media is the 2021 edition of the Social Media Industry Benchmark Report by IQ. By comparing and contrasting to social media benchmarks of over 14 top industries (Alcohol, Fashion, Financial Services, Food & Beverage, Health & Beauty, Higher Education, Home Decor, Hotels & Resorts, Influencers, Media, Nonprofits, Retail, Sports Teams, and Tech & Software) this report empowers nonprofits to discover the social media strategy that most successful for them. In fact, nonprofits might have a leg up when it comes to social media trends, as they are natural story tellers.

Chart of Instagram posts per day, all industries
Comparing Nonprofits engagement with Instagram with 13 other industries.

The second reason for not engaging in social media is fear. We fear what we do not know. We imagine that there must be expenses related to new forms of marketing, so we do not even go there. We also fear getting tangled into something that we simply cannot handle. There is simply not enough staff people to manage social media engagement. We would not want to begin something only to see it get out of hand.

What can help you to face these fears? If you are new to social media like me, there are many excellent online resources to help you get started and to face these concerns. You are not alone!

In Social Media for Nonprofits: How to Make an Impact, Leo Pedraza makes 4 suggestions for non-profits who are getting started on social media:

  1. Establish clear goals
  2. Create cohesive and clear content
  3. Interact with followers and other similar organizations
  4. Track and evaluate your progress

With these four simple and realistic steps, Pedraza offers hope and encouragement to those new to social media. The key take-away from this blog? Small steps will have a big impact. As a mentor used to say to me: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Has your nonprofit built a social media strategy that fits your particular needs? Would you add anything to these four points? We would love to hear from you!

Social media is not a one size fits all world.

Nonprofits have a unique mission to inspiring the people with a vision.

Let’s carve out our unique niche, and have some fun while we’re at it!

Facebook: Finding your nonprofit niche on social media:

Twitter: What’s your story? Social media success for nonprofits:

New to Social Media? Weighing the Pros and Cons for Small Businesses

Image by Mohammed Hassen on Pixabay

Everyone wants to be relevant. If you lead a business today, relevance is synonymous with social media. If you are not found online within a few clicks, you do not exist!

However, if we are honest with ourselves, we know that engaging our business on social media is not all sunshine and roses. You. Become. Vulnerable. Being relevant on social media means being vulnerable and this has its pros and cons.

“Being relevant on social media means being vulnerable and this has its pros and cons.”

There is the good side of vulnerability- sharing of your brand and it’s mission and connecting with people.  And there is the downside of vulnerability- being open to very public criticism, online shaming and the very real possibility negative comments going viral. My worst nightmare is something negative eluding my digital finger tips and going viral. Once the damage is done, it is hard to regain trust and confidence and rebuild your digital image.

For these reasons, before plunging your business head first into the dynamic ever-shifting seas of social media, it is wise to take a death breath and take a step back. With a little bit of distance from the urgency to simply get on board,  you will be more able to weigh the pros and cons of how social media can work for you. As a business leader, you are the one ultimately responsible for direction that your business will take on social media. An informed decision is the best decision, even if it seems to slow you down right out of the gate. 

How can you get started analyzing the good, the bad and the ugly of social media?

In 10 Disadvantages of Social Media Marketing and What You Should Do Instead Tech analyst Jackie Owen offers a frank and honest analysis of the pros and cons of social media for a small business that is just getting started. With a healthy dose of realism, and with insights gained from years of working in the industry, Owen invites you to reflect on some foundational issues such as cost, investment of time, challenges related to analyzing the impact, as well as issues related to security and privacy. It is important to consider these challenges to be able to build a social media that works for you.

Rather than simply raising the alarm about social media, however, Owen goes a step further and asks:  How can a new small business create a well established reputation and to promote brand awareness if they are not ready to fully embrace social media? He offers 3 concrete suggestions to successfully developing an online presence for your business:  harnessing search functions to draw traffic to your website,  developing video content and being present on Youtube, and getting known through Podcasts. Owen backs up these suggestions with concrete examples from the industry to show you how they can help.

Have you run into any pitfalls when you got started on social media?

What would be your advice to new small business owners who are getting started? 

If you are just getting started on social media, take the time to balance at the pros and cons. It’s for your own good. An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure, as my grandmother used to say. This wisdom is as relevant today to a small business owner facing the reality of social media as it was in my grandmother’s era. Good luck!