Know Your Numbers, but More Importantly Know What They Mean

by Ken Mueller on June 7, 2012 · 26 comments

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Know Your Numbers (Photo credit: (klaus))

I’m old enough to remember back in the day when you would get a cholesterol number from the doctor and it was either high or low. One number, and everything was interpreted from that number.

Then of course things changed, and now you get several numbers, because it turns out that there is good cholesterol and bad cholesterol, each of which has its own acceptable limits. Then of course throw in your triglycerides. It isn’t enough to just know one number, you have to know several numbers and then interpret them, not just individually, but also in relation to one another.

In the online world we talk a lot about numbers. The most basic of numbers involve “followers” and “fans” and website “visitors”. Great. Now what?

Those numbers are often meaningless in and of themselves, and at times completely meaningless. What makes them meaningless is isolating them and using them as a barometer for how you’re doing. We get excited when we see an increase in fans or followers, and I admit that I watch my web traffic closely. I always like to see a nice increase in traffic.

But numbers are only as good as their context and interpretation.

Just to give you an example:

Let’s say you have 1500 followers on Twitter. Great, right? It must mean something.

But how many of those are spam followers? How many just decided to follow you in hopes you would follow back, with no interest in what you’re tweeting about? How many are no longer using Twitter? How many followed you just to be nice, because they are a friend, but have no interest in your business? How many followed you in earnest, but never really read your tweets?

That 1500 just plummeted pretty fast.

Many of those same things go for those Facebook fans of yours. A good number of them follow you but have hidden you from your newsfeed? How many don’t log in at the right times to see your updates in the newsfeed?

Then there’s you website or blog. Perhaps you had 10,ooo visits during the previous month. That might be a good number, but let’s look deeper at that number.

  • How many were repeat visitors vs. unique visitors?
  • First time vs. returning?
  • Search vs. Link vs. Direct vs. Social?

Let’s go even further.

How much time did they spend on your site? That 10-second visit surely wasn’t enough for them to do anything meaningful, so does it really count?

Then look at the visitors who came via search engines. Search traffic is great, but only if they are finding you for the right reasons. I get a lot of great search traffic. When someone searches for something related to what I do, that’s wonderful. Especially if they are looking for someone in my line of work.

But what if they find my site searching for “dandelion tattoos” or “Romney Obama”? This has happened, but chances are they aren’t looking for what I offer. Sure, I’ll take the traffic, but it’s most likely not someone who would ever consider hiring me.

It’s important to check your numbers on a regular basis, but more importantly know what they mean. Those numbers can be a sign of something good, in which case you need to replicate what you’re doing, or find ways to continue that.

The numbers can also be a sign that something is wrong, like high blood pressure, or a low white blood cell count. In those cases, you need to find out WHY the numbers are bad, then work to correct them.

Either way, you need to know your numbers, and more importantly, you need to know what they mean, within the overall context of you online presence and business model. Don’t just go throwing out numbers. And certainly don’t play the numbers game where you obsess over how many followers you have or not, as compared to your competitor.

And when it comes to your health numbers, you can’t fake it. You can’t do something to pretend that you have a normal blood pressure, when in fact it’s high. The doctor will know. In the same way, don’t be roped into one of those deals where they promise to “buy” or “secure” you a certain number of Twitter followers or Facebook fans for $1 or $5 apiece.

They aren’t real, and you can’t fake it.

Remember, it’s all about the big picture. It’s not the numbers; it’s what you do with them that matters.

What is your experience with numbers? Do you give into the temptation to obsess over simple numbers, or do you dig deeper to understand the context of those numbers, and what they mean in relation to other numbers?

 

 

 Know Your Numbers, but More Importantly Know What They Mean
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23 comments
RebeccaTodd
RebeccaTodd

Just last night I said "I can do better with 3 good calls than 21 surface meeting." Reaching the right people, the most important people, those that really truly care, is much more important than having a bunch of meaningless meetings just to "get my numbers up". Thanks for this! 

TheJackB
TheJackB

One of favorite pieces of hate mail came from someone who tried to attack me by using my FB and Twitter numbers to attack me. I ought to send them a link to the post.

 

The way I measure power/influence in social media is by asking what happens when you issue a call to action. Do people respond to your request or ignore you.

 

Conversions are always significant, especially as they relate to your goals.

Latest blog post: The Summertime Blues

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

Love this post @KenMueller I crow about this stuff alot. Like what is an active user on facebook? They consider it anyone who logs in once for at least 1 second per month. Obviously that isn't active or anyone reachable. I hate 'impressions'. Yesterday I blogged about someone blogging about Facebook ads claiming you can reach every user. The same time two major studies were published showing up to 80% of users ignore them. I saw an AdWeek article just this week discussing GM's ad budget and then they mentioned how in 2007 to 2008 J&J kept theirs the same $865mil. Forgetting that because of inflation 2008 is actually equal to spending 3% less or $25mil less in real dollars.

 

But marketers love fuzzy math. and that is why CMO's have the shortest C-Suite tenor because CFOs and CEO like real numbers. Businesses can't afford this lack of math and logic.

annedreshfield
annedreshfield

Great post, Ken. I think what you said is all very true -- it's easy to get too wrapped up in numbers online, so that's one of the only ways to measure our interaction and engagement. It's easy to say "hey, I've got 500 people who liked my Facebook page, we're really rolling now!" But once you look at how many people actually engage on that page, or are actually reading what you put out, that number really doesn't mean much. That's why I don't understand why businesses are so concerned with sending out messages of "help us reach 5,000 (or any other number!)" What will that number do for them, once it's inevitably reached? It's a good thing to think about.

annelizhannan
annelizhannan

Using your analogy of  health care numbers,  it is a smart strategy  to know your numbers so you can adapt or change a lifestyle for long term wellness, not simply illness or health.  But as for obsessing over your daily weight or blood counts you may in effect do more harm. Moderation, as in a monthly or quarterly checks, is your best medicine. Having said that, if your baseline numbers exhibit severe disease, immediate intervention is crucial. Understand where you are today, set goals for where you want to be in the long haul and build a comprehensive strategy plan to get there.

 

Thanks

girlseeksplace
girlseeksplace

I'm definitely a stat checker, mostly on my blog. I don't get as invested in Facebook and Twitter, even though I probably should. I seriously doubt I have unique visitors to my blog. I'm not good at marketing myself, though, so these things are a struggle for me.

LizJostes
LizJostes

Dandelion tattoo? I feel like that needs further explanation. :-)

 

You definitely are a stats checker! But this is coming from someone who is the opposite.

 

I have a lot of thoughts on fans and followers, and what they really mean. But for all the people who like me do not think quantity means a whole lot, there are plenty of others who do whatever they can to amass an enormous number of followers.

 

I completely agree with you that numbers shouldn't be looked at individually but instead as part of a greater whole. Leaning too much on any single stat or follower count will hurt you in the long run. 

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

 @TheJackB you definitely have to have goals, and know how to measure them. I love that hate mail. Was it from Klout?

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

 @HowieSPM There is a lot of misinformation out there about how all of this works. I've read some posts about Promoted Posts that just don't make sense. People are making assumptions about how they work or don't work, without actually seeing what happens. 

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

 @annedreshfield And that's where we're brainwashed. Businesses come to me with numbers in mind, and I have to break it to them that the numbers they are talking about, are rather meaningless. they don't get that. 

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

 @annelizhannan Some great points. We definitely can't micromanage our numbers. It'll kill ya!

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

 @girlseeksplace It's one of those things you need to learn about and take a look at. You might not need really deep analytics in your case, but there are some analytics to keep an eye on.

RebeccaTodd
RebeccaTodd

 @KenMueller So true! I am so grateful to work for a leader who trusts my judgement now.  In the past, I had a set quota for number of in-person calls a week, regardless of results, geography, or what I was actively selling. In the end, the busy work burned me out and made me feel that my judgement and work were not valued. Even though my numbers showed strong double digit growth, I left the company within months of that mandate. Now I am showing strong double digit growth in my new role, but more importantly, I feel that my work is noticed and valued not just by my "boss" but by the whole team. As @rdopping said earlier, "When your people are not happy, your clients are not happy and your bank account is not happy." 

TheJackB
TheJackB

 @KenMueller Nope. It was from a person who had lots of other stuff to say. Accused me of being a spammer because I publish frequently. If I did send him/her this link I would include a definition of spammer and "opt-in" too. ;)

Latest blog post: The Summertime Blues

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

 @KenMueller on a client page I was seeing the pop up asking if I wanted to pay to promote. I checked it out. Gave no details on cost. No examples of what it will look like. And they filled in $5.00 as an example. I wonder how many businesses just bought some blindly.

TheJackB
TheJackB

 @KenMueller @annedreshfield In theory if ten percent of those who liked your page interact and engage with your brand you might start to get somewhere.

 

For example, my page has about 310 "likes" on it now. Ten percent of that 310 isn't all that many, but if you had a million and got ten percent of those people to do something....

Latest blog post: The Summertime Blues

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