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Why we need to move away from vanity metrics on social media


By Amy Houston, Senior Reporter

October 8, 2021 | 5 min read

The Drum’s social media executive Amy Houston assesses what success looks like on social media, why we need to tweak how we measure it, and what the future holds in this space.


How do we measure success on social media?

What does a successful social media campaign look like? It’s a very broad question that evokes a lot of opinions and is dependent on many factors, but in today’s ever-changing digital world it’s a topic that’s more important than ever.

The last few weeks have felt tumultuous for social media networks – from The Wall Street Journal report on Facebook’s negative mental health impact, and the continued fallout around this, to the now-infamous outage that left three major apps down for around six hours on Tuesday.

This could be a real watershed moment for social media. Maybe that’s wishful thinking, but I do believe how we approach these platforms needs to change – and quickly. If I had a penny for every time someone has said to me ‘the post got a lot of engagement, let’s do that again,’ I’d be a rich lady, but working in this field for a few years has taught me that it boils down to so much more than that. Measuring success through numbers alone is wrong and we need to move away from this mentality.

“For us, the biggest sign of success is when we see comments praising the content itself – things like ‘we love the social team on [show name]!’ or ‘it’s like they gave a fan the account logins’ are our trophies,” says Bryony Matthewman, internal comms, Jellyfish Social.

Matthewman notes that the usual KPIs of conversion and click-through rates will likely stick around for some time in social media, organic or otherwise, as “more established brands can sometimes struggle to evolve past the hard data of it all.”

If you run a small business on Instagram and create a campaign that speaks to your audience, evokes some level of emotion, or even potentially even helps your community in some way, but you receive fewer likes anticipated, then is it deemed a failure? Not at all. You have created something so much more than what any algorithm can dictate as a triumph. We need to move away from vanity projects.

“What’s changing is the platforms’ abilities to deliver a more mature way to measure campaigns that go beyond vanity metrics like followers or likes,” Rob Estreitinho, planning director at VCCP, says. “You are now able to measure brand and sales lift effects off the back of the creative work people see, and in the next few years we’ll see far more mature social commerce options to further supplement that.”

A bigger focus on community management, comms with purpose and pushing creative boundaries is much more exciting and probably better for social media users’ overall experience, but how do we get there?

“The future of evaluation lies in thinking ‘small’ data. Understanding the right measures to look at, applying meaningful analysis and benchmarking/KPIs and then using other data to provide context or insight as needed,” adds Anna Wilson, head of digital development, Tangerine.

“At its core, social media is built around people – the channels are designed to create meaningful interactions between humans. So, if we get too lost in data and metrics and lose the ‘human touch’ our marketing and our outputs will suffer,” Wilson concludes.

There’s no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to social posts, but having clear objectives and a solid vision will always deliver a campaign that stays true to your brands’ ethics. At its core, social media thrives on human interactions, and somewhere along the way we’ve got lost in the vanity of it all – from unattainable beauty filters, to huge but disengaged audiences, to thousands of likes but no tangible outcomes. It’s encouraging to see conversations around these topics happening more frequently on and offline, which gives me hope that the future is more personable and a little less ostentatious.

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