ContentContent Conundrum: The Vanity vs. Performance Dilemma

Content Conundrum: The Vanity vs. Performance Dilemma

The rise of vanity metrics often distracts content authors from the true meaning and value of publishing great content. You shouldn't create content based on vanity metrics. The best content balances firm audience, personal, and business objectives.

VanityNot every piece of content you produce is great. Content can be a very subjective form of marketing. Some people like it, some don’t, some care, and some don’t.

Every day millions of pieces on content are produced on the Web. Does every piece of content have value; does it serve a reader, author, and business purpose? No.

The rise of vanity metrics often distracts content authors from the true meaning and value of publishing great content and using true content marketing metrics. It’s the modern-day content marketing dilemma – subjective vanity versus objective performance.

Vanity at a Glance

The following graphical representation from Kissmetrics says it all.

The Curse of Vanity Metrics

Pageview journalism is partly to blame for the rise in vanity-based metrics. This includes subjective, poorly researched, and biased/agenda-based vanity lists. Every day a new list is published with no real business or performance-based metric associated – the new content/social link bait in poor disguise.

The line between the ego and the egotist is a fine one. We all have an ego – its human nature and that is fine. However, if your sole purpose in producing content is based on vanity metrics, then this egotism can be viewed as self-centered, arrogant, and result in narcissism.

Simply following shares, chasing lists, and reporting on social media metrics alone serves little business purpose. However, if you tie this to a business or performance objective, then the metrics become useful indicators as part of a large content measurement equation.

Publishing for Performance and Purpose

Content comes in many forms. Publishing for personal need, awareness, and engagement is an important part of your content marketing strategy.

However, there have been countless times I heard people boast that they had “more than 1,000 shares” and are top of a friend’s top 10 list. Then I read it, see it’s thin content and serves no real purpose other than self-proclamation, and…*sigh*.

In stark contrast, I’ve seen some of best content on the Web receive less shares but serve a real purpose. The author comes back and says, “This help x customer with this, helped convert x amount of business, helped influence x in their decision making process. It performed beyond a vanity metric.”

This is real content marketing. It starts with a well-thought-out strategy, which is complemented by tactics.

Social media platforms thrive on vanity and ego and the modern-day content marketer needs to balance objectives, amplification, and performance. Vanity metrics on their own carry little merit. Many marketers actually rush to produce content via a stand-alone tactic that may get them shares but serves little business purpose (strategy).


Objective Content for Performance

At the heart of publishing content for performance lies objectives. Not one objective, multiple objectives.

  • Your audience objective: If you don’t know and understand your audience, then your content performance metrics will fall flat. It’s vital to understand and optimize your content in a format that helps them read, understand, engage, and take action. It has to serve a purpose for them.
  • Your personal objective: What do you want to get from the content. Is it personal promotion? Is it sharing a specific message? Or is it influencing a certain niche section/audience? Is your personal objective actually your business objective?
  • The business objective: What value does this add to your business? Is it aligned with performance KPIs (key performance indicators)? Do you simply want traffic and shares or is the aim to influence a brand, prospect, and tie in with a wider sales, CS, or business plan?

The best content balances all three objectives. It’s a win-win-win situation.

Vanity to Performance

Once you have firm objectives set you can move on to the, more fun, aspects of tactical implementation and promotion. Just make sure you set up a process to measure your content objectives at each stage of the content marketing process. Ensure that vanity metrics play a part of your measurement process but as a facilitator rather than direct performance metric.

Media Value Measure

To read more on this, read Simon Heseltine’s post on how to combine social and content.


Understand your audience and your objectives before you create content and always have your customers in sight and earshot when you’re conducting your marketing activity.

Focus on quality of content to avoid some of the misleading vanity metrics that people throw your way. They are only part of the content marketing equations. If you’re interested in vanity metrics, then pick the right metric to measure that incentivizes the behavior you want to move the needle toward your overall objective.

Start by really thinking about what you write and assign multiple objectives. The best marketers know the balance and have their measurement systems in place. After all, you are what you measure.


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