The Value of Data (and the Foolishness of Vanity)

I have grown to love numbers. Numbers make clients happy.  Stepping from one number to the next gets you where you want to go. You can build a lot atop numbers. You can grow your audience. You can develop a user base. Your ads get clicked and viewed. The numbers pile up. But what numbers really matter?

Startup founders can become hypnotized by the vanity metric. The ‘hockey stick’ growth of  user adoption that actually does not indicate any revenue. The Twitter followers who are bought and paid for, who aren’t your audience at all. The Facebook and Instagram likes at a buck a click. The mailing list subscribers who actually don’t open and don’t read your newsletter.

There are only a few numbers that matter. Revenue and income, you’ll say, and you would be right. But in the warm-and-fuzzy world of marketing awareness and other soft targets there are some funny numbers that matter.

Potential users seek validation when they look at social media user counts. If your startup has 10 Facebook friends, it isn’t a good sign. If your Twitter feed has a dozen readers people will be reluctant to sign on. Journalists seeking to check you out will see if you have been covered by other journalists. They will check social numbers  – like follower counts – to see if the article they are contemplating will be more like shouting into the dark than speaking to an audience of interested readers. Your audience. Your people. Your followers. Your numbers. We have to measure them somehow, and social numbers are often the way we do it.

The only truly hard audience numbers I know are these. If visitors go to your site and spend the several minutes it takes to read a blog, they are valuable visitors. If they look at three or four more pages, they are worth paying attention to and cultivating. If more than 20% of the people who go to your site, actually  sign up for something, or download something, they are your most devoted users or customers. If newsletter readers open at a rate of more than 40% and click at a rate of more than 10%, they are being really nice to you.

Social numbers are a soft target, but they are all we have. Hard audience numbers like time on a page, download rates, open and click rates – these spell life or death for a startup. They are worth marking, worth improving, and worth obsessing about.