Identifying vanity metrics versus actionable metrics

A ‘vanity metric’ is a type of data point that appears impressive or significant on the surface but doesn’t provide meaningful insights into a school’s performance, nor does it help guide actionable strategies for growth or improvement.

Any metrics can be a vanity metric if it isn’t accompanied by supporting metrics that provide deeper context, as well as substantial analysis and insights into what this means for the school’s marketing strategy and how it can be used to help inform the school’s next decisions.

Examples for schools might include things like the number of followers they have on their Facebook page, the number of page views received on a brand awareness campaign landing page, or Open Day event registrations, which might seem impressive but don’t necessarily translate into Prospectus downloads or physical attendance at the school Open Day.

Vanity metrics are indicators that may boost ego or improve appearances in the overall performance of the school marketing department but they lack substantial value for the school’s Heads’ business decision-making.

To ensure that your reporting to your Head doesn’t become a myriad of vanity metrics, there are three important considerations to keep in mind.

  1. How can we use this metric to inform our school’s business decisions?

When dealing with our organic and paid data, it’s crucial to distinguish between what merely looks good and what is genuinely useful for decision-making. A quick way to identify a vanity metric is by asking whether a particular Key Performance Indicator (KPI) can influence a school’s business decision or action. If the answer is ‘no’ or ‘I don’t know’, then it’s likely a vanity metric and needs re-evaluation.

Actionable metrics (the opposite of vanity metrics) provide context, feedback, and valuable insight into enrol operations, school marketing activities, and assisting in refining marketing strategies or strategic planning. For instance, while measuring pageviews on a brand awareness campaign landing page might not lead to any grand business decisions, monitoring the download rate of your gated School Prospectus could encourage modifications to on-page wording, calls to action, or form submission styles – all improving the user experience (UX) for your prospective parents.

  1. How can we reliably replicate this outcome?

An important aspect of useful metrics is the ability to intentionally reproduce results. If a metric is based on random occurrences, like content going viral without a strategic plan, it becomes less useful because you can’t replicate the success reliably.

Metrics should be based on processes where variables can be controlled and outcomes can be reproduced with similarity. This control and repeatability allow for process improvements, leading to better metrics.

For example, a sudden spike in views on a YouTube video of your school sports carnival highlights because a student is seen to be breaking a record, might seem positive but since this outcome is tied to erratic external factors and cannot be reliably reproduced, it doesn’t offer actionable insights into the type of content you should post on your school’s YouTube channel going forward.

  1. Does the data accurately represent reality?

Ensuring your data accurately reflects the truth is vital. In certain areas, particularly on social media, metrics can be artificially inflated by paying for followers, likes and impressions making these figures unreliable. It’s also important to consider the consistency your data source, and to account for uncontrollable factors like changes in third-party algorithms or seasonal influences that may skew results.

For example, if we are tracking month over month Facebook page engagement rates, we will see that June is a significantly better month to post over than July. However, this doesn’t paint the full picture considering that families go on holiday over the school term breaks. This is an example of when vanity metrics can make you look like you are performing worse than you actually are. So always remember to scrutinise metrics to ensure they are genuine or lacking substance.

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