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Vanity Metrics Are Dead: Why Paid Advertising Industry Is Moving Away From These Metrics?

When anyone can become “Instagram famous” for $50, it’s time to ask ourselves, who really cares about follower numbers? As a digital marketing agency, vanity metrics like follower counts and photo likes mean less and less to us every day. We’ll tell you why.

Brands use Instagram to create various advertising strategies. However, even Instagram themselves are putting less emphasis on photo likes and follower counts. They recently implemented a trial-run that saw the removal of like-counts from photos. Our impression is that the decision was essentially a social experiment designed to help people become less obsessed with vanity metrics.

“We want your followers to focus on what you share, not how many likes your posts get,” Instagram said prior to their test-run. “During this test, only the person who shares a post will see the total number of likes it gets.”

The removal of ‘likes’ and the step away from vanity metrics comes on the heels of public criticism towards Instagram’s addictive nature. Research shows that receiving a ‘like’ on your photo triggers the same brain circuits that can cause addiction. This is similar to those that also go off when a person wins money. So, it’s clear why vanity metrics work, but not exactly what they do for a business.

It’s time to be honest with ourselves. We should look at our narcissism and addiction in the eyes and admit that vanity metrics don’t really matter.

The paid advertising industry is moving away from these metrics. It is changing to an ROI centred approach. It’s time to focus on metrics that grow a client’s business, tangible metrics that build a bottom line. It’s time to say goodbye to vanity metrics.


Advertising is meant to make clients money.

When you come down to it, the paid advertising strategy should focus on one thing: the client’s return on investment (ROI).  We have the means to accurately target and measure our advertising strategy to achieve this.

A lesson in sophistication.

If we think back to when commercials on television were the most prevalent forms of advertising, people measured the effectiveness of an ad based on the reach it obtained. Buying space during the most popular times on TV meant your ad reached more people. But now, the paid advertising strategy is much, much more sophisticated.

We can track a consumer’s activity online. There we can see whether or not they were influenced enough from an ad to buy a product directly, or the path they took to that product afterward.

We can focus our ads at a certain target audience based on their location, age, gender, and even past buying habits. This kind of laser-focused advertising strategy is not only available, but it’s also now the norm.

Now, we are no longer strategizing for the widest reach but the most specific reach. The same kind of shift in focus is happening with traditional vanity metrics.

We’re asking ourselves, does x amount of likes and followers gained from ads really help the client in a tangible way?  Vanity metrics are now being replaced with profitability metrics.


Profitability metrics are much more telling for sales.

For one client who sold products online and off, using a targeted paid advertising strategy, we grew their monthly revenue to over $20k with an eventual ROAS of 13x over the holiday season. During this period, we drove $218k in sales from a $29k ad spend. The average lifetime ROAS hit 7.5x.

vanity-metrics-are-dead-profitability

Leave engagement to the social media team.

Social media strategy is less tangible than paid advertising; these two strategies should be used in tandem as part of a well-rounded marketing plan. Where paid advertising goals are achieving a solid ROI, social media strategy can focus on things like brand engagement and community management.

Social media should be the place where an audience can have a conversation with your brand. The follower count and photo likes will come organically here when your social media community wants to engage with you.

Here, your followers are your community, your fan base, and are probably already consumers. As such, this is the easiest tier of conversion.


What’s a relationship without honesty? In our ideal agency-client partnership is one of full transparency.

In a blue-sky approach to digital marketing, our ideal scenario for an agency-client relationship is one that experiences full transparency. If we are aware of the profit margins of a business, we can be proactive with their ad spending.

We can ensure that the advertising campaign always makes a profit, and works to maximize the opportunity of profit potential. Moreover, we can set limits instead of trying to get as many sales as we can, working within that businesses profit margin.

Every advertising and optimization decision we make during a campaign should be focused on working with each client’s unique profit margins in mind. If we have this information, we can ensure that each sale we are driving is working within the limits of that company’s margins.  


In an ideal world, clients empower their agency with flexible advertising budgets. When an opportunity exists to increase revenue while still maintaining profitability, the marketer should be able to maximize that opportunity, until reaching the point where the additional ad dollars are no longer profitable.

The benefit of having a good marketer is their knowledge of when the profitability of an advertising campaign has reached its limit. To do this, they need a deep understanding of the client’s business, factoring all the overhead and management that goes into their products, across all product lines.

After all, the agency and the client are on the same team. They are working towards the same goal — maximizing the client’s ROI through advertising strategy.

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