“We got more than four million visits to our website in a day,” the political non-profit’s executive director said. It seemed like a massive success for a small organization seeking to become a powerhouse. Instead, it became a blip of vanity on a large radar of failure because those visitors weren’t turned into donors, newsletter recipients, or on-the-ground activists.
Digital strategists often are between a rock and a hard place when it comes to turning vanity metrics into valuable deliverables. Most executives simply don’t understand that building value takes time, and that many shiny object metrics like web traffic, Google keyword rankings, and followers aren’t valuable unless they convert into long-term results.
This creates the ethical and customer service challenge of putting the customer’s best interests first while making sure you don’t get fired.
Vanity vs Value vs Ethics
PR and advertising remain chock full of vanity metrics. Radio programs and social media sites talk about total audience or audience size. In reality, only a fraction of the potential audience is listening, reading, or watching. Likewise, social media impressions are almost meaningless on their own.
But since most people don’t know that, the savvy digital strategist can fool an unsuspecting company for months or years.
The key to long-term success, though, is to negotiate value while keeping the company apprised of vanity and value metrics. For example, say you are working with a company where engagement is important. Therefore, start with impressions–a vanity metric in earned media–and then drive followers and engagement from those impressions. The end goals are to increase the company's sales and thought leadership…and it’s going to take a while.
You've set expectations from the start. The company now knows that brand-building is a long game, and you have set short-term metrics to which they can hold you. You're also regularly communicating tactical and strategic information. This way the company knows how things are going, can offer feedback, and be engaged as much as it wishes.
Another important part of negotiation is to include professional courtesies as a business norm. A consultant recently fired her SEO vendor for: a) not delivering the promised 10 deliverables, and b) treating relevant questions that weren’t explicitly tied to the contract as billable time. The consultant was upset that there was no room to get an occasional answer to a relevant question. This despite the consultant paying quarterly for services.
Successful digital strategists treat the customer as part of the team. Many employers provide coffee for on-site staff, even though it isn't part of the compensation package. Digital strategists should do the same. Hop on calls that are relevant but slightly outside of the services you are providing.
These are some of the keys to success in a vanity-driven digital world. Negotiate so the company will stick around long enough to see value. And include professional courtesies that help you stand out against the stickler competition. The company will trust your ethics, decisions, and–even if it takes a while–your results.