Square Social on When Your KPI's Don't Indicate Your Performance

Ben Donkor, Square Social

I casually remembered one of the many lessons that my first manager taught me while I was working as a trainee:

“There are thousands of metrics, KPIs and measures but they all fit in one of the 3 ‘N’ categories - necessary, nice to have, and not suitable“

On big reports that would go out he’d always have 3 columns: one for necessary metrics requested, one for ‘nice-to-have’ metrics, and a greyed-out column with not suitable metrics – those requested metrics that sound fancy but don’t add any value to the actual story.

I guess in one way he was getting me ready for the world of digital marketing, where big numbers are coveted, but the right metrics aren’t always used.

Now, here’s what he meant by that:

Necessary: these are the actionable metrics, the real key performance indicators. If you’re a B2C brand, one of your KPIs will be how much revenue you’re getting as part of your social efforts - do your tweets attract your followers to your site? Are those people then moved to buy what you offer? After they’ve made their purchase, are they compelled to share with their social circles? Or maybe you are an SEO Agency or an SEO Company - what about the keywords that attract most people to your site? Are they the ones you’re actually working on? This is all quantifiable (as long as you have the right tools and segmentations in place).

Nice to have: these are not essential but not unimportant. For instance, still within the B2C context, a nice-to-have KPI would be seeing how many unique visitors your site is getting as opposed to ‘just visitors’. Or perhaps, the top 5 mobile devices shown on Google Analytics for your blog visits – it’s not essential, but still nice to see what devices are mostly being used to visit your site, so you can then see if you need to optimise your site further.

Not suitable: these are, alas, the most common KPIs in analytics. They come in two forms: the appealing ones and the B.S. – the business standards. The appealing KPIs are those that look and sound big when presented to your manager. Then you have the B.S., business standards – not standards because they’ve been agreed by everyone in the industry, but because that’s what everyone seems to enjoy using. A perfect example is Facebook’s infamous PTAT (People Talking About This). People use that because it’s readily and publicly available, so it’s easy to take that number and compare your Facebook page with your competitors or other pages. However, not everyone delves into breaking this metric down and understanding what it actually involves – PTAT is not the number of people talking about your brand or your Facebook Page, but it’s the number of interactions between Facebook users and your page. One person can comment, like, and share on your post and it’ll be counted as 3 PTA, even though it’s only one person talking about you. [More on this here.] So now you end up with big figures that look good on paper and sound good in presentations, but their practicality is close to zilch.
So, how do you differentiate between the 3 types of metrics? Ask yourself the following two questions:

If you were to report on these metrics, which ones can you do without?Out of those you can do without, how many of those are great to have to support your cause?
That will tell you where your metrics lie. Sometimes you won’t have a clear-cut distinction and often you’ll see that some metrics are unnecessary and essential at the same time, depending on who your stakeholders are – number of pageviews might not be necessary if you’re reporting to your customer care team, but it might be essential if the recipient of your report is working on your site with a focus on traffic. So, before you ask yourself those two questions, check who the recipient of your report(s) is .

So, here’s a fun and interesting challenge – tell me, whoever you are, whatever brand you work for – what metrics you’re currently using, especially those you’re doubtful of, and I’ll tell you whether you should keep them, ditch them or just keep them as ‘nice to have’ metrics.

(This should be fun…)

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