I have an obsession with vanity metrics.
I've seen several definitions around the internet of vanity metrics, and they all say similar things.
A vanity metric is a metric where you can compare yourself to others, but it doesn't offer any actionable value in determining your growth.
Ouch. I wrote that, and it hurt to hear myself say it.
I've taken weekly snapshots of several values for the past few years.
For the past 16 years, Twitter has been the mechanism I've used to grow my network. Everyone in the developer community was on Twitter, and the who's-who of development was on Twitter.
I correlate my popularity in the development community with my Twitter follower count.
Did I release a good article on my site? I hoped for a rise in Twitter followers.
Was my talk at NDC incredibly excellent? I hoped for a rise in Twitter followers.
Why is this a vanity metric? Follower count is a poor indicator of popularity. Suppose I release a new article or video on YouTube. It doesn't directly impact the number of folks seeing that content.
"The Algorithm" does more of that work for me. If my content is on fire, the algorithm will get it in front of the right eyes.
Of course, having 4000 followers is better than 40. But I should use something other than followers count as a critical indicator of my awesomeness.
There is also the case of Twitter's impending downfall. On this day in November 2022, we are still determining the future of Twitter. Could all that "work" be for nothing?
I created a new account on a Mastodon server and had to start from scratch. ZERO followers. Some friends from Twitter quickly moved to Mastodon as well, but not 4000 friends.
Should I start tracking Mastodon followers as a metric?
In 2020, I jumped on the live-streaming bandwagon with many other developers. It was a ton of fun to play around, teach some concepts, and interact with people during a time we could not interact with people in real life.
I thought live streaming could turn into more, so I tracked my followers on Twitch.
But again, follower counts don't correlate to much of anything. I see others doing the same live-streaming gig, and they have 10x the number of followers. If you were to jump in on any of their streams, they'd probably have 20-30 people watching at a time.
Streaming is like watching syndicated TV shows. It's fun to have on in the background, or you need to be in the mood to watch, but it's going to be the thing you create a calendar item to remember.
There is a line where follower count turns from a vanity metric into an actionable value for growth. For every X number of followers I can add, that'll translate into Y dollars of ad revenue or subscriber benefits. That line requires me to put way more effort into the platform than I can, so this is still a vanity metric.
I started a YouTube channel as a promotional device for myself. YouTube is an entirely separate discussion, but I wanted a platform where I could teach and demonstrate my expertise and opinion on various software development topics.
YouTube is a place for videos from my .NET User Group, and I wanted to make videos for random topics.
The subscriber number is a lot of fun to watch. Without significant effort into the channel, it grows by 2-5 people per week. The YouTube channel has yet to reach an aspect where it has the numbers to achieve monetization, but I'm close!
So, for now, tracking YouTube subscribers is a vanity metric. I'm watching its growth, but it's only valuable if I'm willing to take the channel seriously as a monetization device. 2023 could be the year I do that!
Having any eyes on your content is good, right? This website helps me get ideas into the world, but other than the poorly designed "Contact" link at the top of the page, there isn't much about this site that puts money in the pocket.
We can argue whether tracking visitors to my site is a vanity metric. Let's imagine this post goes viral, and tens of thousands of eyes read it.
First, that would be amazing.
But what does this do for my growth? Will readers convert to Twitter followers? Haha - and if they do, what value does that provide me?
Will readers buy my courses? Maybe! I should drop a call-to-action below and see if that converts.
Join the thousands of developers who have already taken their first steps into building real-time web applications with SignalR.
What would happen if this article were to go viral is that I would feel terrific about myself for a couple days. I would have the energy to write more content or do a new YouTube video.
The last metric I watch religiously is the number of students enrolled in my Udemy course, SignalR Mastery.
This isn't necessarily a vanity metric because, for each student in my course, there is a substantial amount of money in my pocket.
As the course grows, so does my bank account.
This is a fun number to watch when I'm messing around with other vanity metrics. My virtual assistant will schedule a couple dozen promotional tweets over a month. I can see which tweets do better than others. To that same extent, if my vanity number of Twitter followers grows, there is a likely case where someone new will see me promote my course and buy it!
The student count in Udemy is also fuel for future courses. The way their system works, it is highly likely that many students from my SignalR course would magically buy into any new class I promote. That's more money in my pocket!
It's worth talking about the Dopamine Machine.
What is Dopamine? Dopamine is the chemical your body creates that creates the feeling of pleasure and excitement!
That feeling when the scale is down 5 pounds after a week of hitting the gym hard. Dopamine!
That feeling when you cross a to-do off your to-do list. Dopamine!
That feeling when someone tells you on Twitter about how much they enjoyed your article on Vanity Metrics. DOPAMINE BABY!
I'm not going to sit here and pretend I have any doctoral understanding of how dopamine works biologically. This entire article is based on my experiences, and someone with ADHD, for example, might not be able to understand because their body reacts differently than mine does.
Vanity metrics play a big part in helping me get stuff done. I'm not writing this article just because I'm bored. I'm writing this article to share my thoughts, practice writing, and encourage engagement.
Tweets. LinkedIn shares. Toots.. er, why did Mastodon have to use the verb "Toot"? They all help fuel that dopamine machine that Kevin craves.
It's not a guarantee this article will be engaged with, and I might publish it and see a small traffic bump and nothing. The dopamine won't hit, and I'll resign to not having the energy to do anything new for a while.
Is that healthy? Probably not.
The simple conclusion to this increasingly long article about vanity metrics is that externally the number of Twitter followers I have has no impact on me. It doesn't guarantee anyone will read this article, and it doesn't guarantee anyone will buy my courses. It doesn't ensure anyone will try to hire me for consulting. It's a number I use to gauge my popularity against others.
You'll probably hear from dozens of "experts" that you shouldn't track this stuff because it doesn't matter.
I'd like you to consider my point about dopamine and those little hits of pleasure juice when you get a measurable response from an action you take.
Tracking the little things and seeing changes in those numbers when I put something out into the world makes them worth more because I can channel that energy into another project or endeavor.
What do you think? If you made it this far, I'm ready to beg you for some engagement. Do you track vanity numbers, either passively or regularly?