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Every few days, I’ll go on to my LinkedIn account and see what’s going on in the groups. While I’m there, I reject 5-7 requests from overseas SEO companies, then use this neat little tool that LinkedIn offers where you can see who has viewed your profile. It’s nice that I can see that people are interested in learning more about me, but I can’t help but feel a little empty that hardly any of these people ever reach out. Is it a lack of endorsements? Does my profile picture scare them away when it gets bigger?

I’ve noticed over time that this is but another example in a data set I like to call “vanity traps”; feel-good data that doesn’t end up solving any business objective, but instead takes up an excess of otherwise useful time. Other vanity traps can include increases of inactive social media fans, email list recipients, etc. While I could identify many of these people and reach out to them like some attention-seeking, stalker ex-girlfriend, that often proves to be an even bigger waste of time.

Sadly, you tend to hear a lot about these numbers in marketing meetings and reports. They make us feel good, like we’re being noticed, but they’re really just distractions from what really matters – conversions.

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So how can you avoid vanity traps? Simple. Identify and establish some KPIs that focus strictly on significant steps on the sales journey. I have some examples here; but of course, every business is different. You’ll notice that these KPIs don’t contain anything that could be considered dead weight.

Where’s the dead weight, you ask? Here are some examples:

  1. Email marketing list sizes. We suggest pruning back your email lists one a year to only people that have opened your emails sometime over the course of that year. In many cases, email marketing services charge you based on your list size and too much dead weight can cost you more than you need to spend.
  2. Direct mail lists. If you’re sending postcards, sales packets, etc. through the mail (and many companies still do), take a look at the conversion rate it brings you. If you’ve been doing this for six months and haven’t received so much as a phone call, either review what you send out or find a more cost-effective way to get their attention.
  3. Blog post interactions. I’ll just point you to this article – no need to write the same thing twice.
  4. Social media activity that goes nowhere. Are you getting lots of likes, but no referrals or developing conversations on social media? Can you match up any of your social activity to business? If you can’t, it’s time to reconsider your strategy.
  5. Tactics that don’t align with strategy. It’s easy to get pulled in many different directions, grabbing on to the next neat idea that someone mentions in a marketing meeting. It can be fun. But if you can’t explain how it’s going to improve your KPIs (particularly middle-to-bottom KPIs), you’re probably not making the best use of your time.

I’m sure that there are many more, but I think you get a theme here. If you can’t improve the health of your audience, increase your KPI numbers, or bring in business from what you’re doing, be afraid – you’re probably in a vanity trap.


Patrick King

Patrick is the Founder of Imagine and advisor to places on brand strategy and creative. His insights have been published in Inc. Magazine, SmartCEO, Washington Business Journal, The Washington Post, and Chief Marketer, among other publications, and shared at conferences throughout the US. He also has an amazing sock collection.

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