Simon Pilkington
March 29, 2018

Social Media Measurement: Are Facebook Likes a Vanity Metric?

Are Facebook likes a vanity metric as defined in the lean startup? We take a look at the art of social media measurement to define what impact Facebook likes have on your page performance, and how they stack up to engagement metrics like conversions and organic reach. Find out more!

Be honest: are you addicted to “Likes?”

If so, you’re not alone.

After all, in the infant stages of social media marketing, people were obsessed with their follower counts.

Hell, fast forward to present day and many marketers still are.

Because the more Likes, the better, right?

We want that sweet, sweet clout. We want to see our numbers tick upward, too.

And don’t get it twisted: there’s no denying that warm, fuzzy feeling that comes with scoring a new Like.

But while Facebook Likes might be meaningful to marketers, they aren’t the be-all, end-all of social media metrics that some make them out to be.

This begs a bigger question: are Facebook Likes a vanity metric and what value do they truly hold for marketers?

Good question. Let’s break it down.

What’s a Vanity Metric, Anyway?

Simply put, a vanity metric is a data point that might look good on paper, but doesn’t mean much in terms of taking action.

The term was originally coined by Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, and such metrics often attributed to numbers which simply stroke marketers’ egos. Ries asserts that such metrics can be dangerous for marketers who obsess over them.

Vanity metrics mean little in terms of your ROI, bottom line or customers’ value when put in a vacuum. Here’s a quick breakdown of some sample vanity metrics versus “actionable” metrics.

Facebook metrics such as Likes are lumped into the vanity category versus being considered actionable for a couple of reasons.

For starters, there are massive brands out there with millions of Facebook likes that receive a fraction of a percentage point of engagement per post. Sure, their follower counts look impressive, but that’s about it.

Couple this with the fact that just about anyone can buy Facebook followers (hint: please don’t do this) and it’s clear why you can’t put too much stock in Likes alone.

But Don’t Dismiss Facebook Likes Quite Yet

Here’s the deal, though: it’s not exactly fair to dismiss Facebook “Likes” as a vanity metric and nothing more.

For brands with smaller, niche communities who actively engage with their fans, each and every Like represents a potential customer, lead or otherwise positive interaction with their audience.

Heck, take Hello Social as a prime example. 10,000+ Likes is nothing to scoff at, but at an engagement rate of 10% is perhaps even more impressive. When you actually engage with your audience, Likes are meaningful.

Source: Likealyzer

Also, organically getting Likes typically means that you’re doing something right in terms of marketing.  Someone going out their way to show interest in your brand is worth paying attention to, right?

(Spoiler alert: the answer is “yes.”)

Likes can be actionable metrics rather than metrics depending on your business.  Figuring out what they’re truly worth boils down to your specific brand.

Determining if “Likes” are Relevant to Your Brand

To determine how valuable Likes truly are for you, consider the big picture of how businesses benefit from their Facebook fans in the first place.

For example, brands with localized Likes can spread their content across a specific geographical area. Luna Park Sydney’s Facebook is a shining example of what a dedicated local following looks like in action.

Also, bear in mind that some companies are not hunting for a financial ROI from their social efforts. If your primary focus is building a community, Likes certainly hold their weight.

If nothing else, your Likes do have a significant impact on your EdgeRank (think: the equivalent of domain authority for Facebook).

More fans are indeed considered “better,” although there’s still the issue of quality Likes (people who engage with your content) versus quantity. This is why buying Facebook fans is poor form and often backfires on brands.

What Should I Be Looking at Beyond “Likes?”

Think about it like this: Facebook Likes are a smart metric to track, but not necessarily one to chase.

When you obsess over Likes for the sake of vanity, you run the risk of building an audience that won’t engage with your content.

The end result? Poor engagement and damaged organic reach.

Whether or not you view Likes as a vanity metric, consider the following aspects of your Facebook presence as priorities as well.


Although there’s an argument to be made that engagement could be seen as a vanity metric as well, data points such as post likes, comments and shares can result in direct action.

example, if you have a piece of content that blows up, it pays for you to understand why. Each moment of engagement with your content is a clue to what’s working and, on the flip side, what isn’t in terms of your campaigns.


Meeting your conversion goals is an essential piece of social media tracking and seeing a positive ROI for your efforts.

Whether it’s an interaction on-site, a newsletter sign-up or a sale, the ability to track these touch-points helps you fine-tune your Facebook presence accordingly (in other words, take action).

Organic Reach

Let’s face it, friends you pay for will only take you so far.  Focusing on organic reach likewise helps you measure the success of your Facebook marketing. Especially given the 2018 Facebook update, marketers need to pay close attention to how their posts are performing sans ads as part of their social media monitoring.

However, don’t be put off investing in ads worrying about the effect they might have on organic reach.  Paid traffic is often the catalyst that helps to kick start the organic spread of your content.

The Final Word on Facebook Likes

A vanity metric or not, don’t completely discount what Facebook Likes mean for your marketing as a whole.

Think about Likes as a byproduct of good content and solid branding.

As long as you’re giving fans what they want and are building an audience that engages with your stuff, you’re golden.

So if you’re struggling for Likes, you don’t necessarily need to hit the panic button.

But hey, if people are willing to become followers and you aren’t lifting a finger, rock on.

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