Doctors and Twitter: Don’t Get Fooled by Vanity Metrics

vanity metrics

Lady Gaga has 20 million “little monsters” following her on Twitter; Justin Bieber has 18 million “Beliebers.”

As a cosmetic surgery expert with a Twitter account, you should have… little or no concern with how many followers you have. Truth be told, if you’re not a global pop star — and perhaps even if you are — the number of followers you have is a better measure of vanity than genuine value.

In fact, that’s exactly what social media experts call it: a vanity metric. As JD Collier, a web development strategist at Digett, notes:

Vanity metrics are statistics that alone do not tell the whole story, but sound impressive. Facebook fans, Twitter followers, website hits — these are vanity metrics. They can be big numbers, but the number alone doesn’t tell if you are really engaging your audience.

And cosmetic surgeons are not immune. Consider, for example, the Atlanta cosmetic surgeon who sent out a press release a few months ago announcing that he had just surpassed 100,000 followers.

While the 100K mark sounds like a great achievement, says Tom Seery, CEO of RealSelf.com, with all due respect, it’s largely meaningless to a medical practice or any business.

The problem is that the quantity of followers someone has is no measure of the quality of those followers as in how engaged they are with the site and your feed. Perhaps more than any other social network, the Twitterverse is littered with inactive accounts as people sign up for the service and then seldom or never use it.

Last month, for example, the company announced that it had 140 million “active” users, a term which refers to people who log on to the site at least once a month. The company doesn’t reveal how many total accounts it has but with estimates in the range of 300 to 400 million, it’s likely that at least half are essentially inactive.

For individuals tracking their follower-counts, the numbers may be skewed even further when you consider that an unknown number of users click on the Follow button simply in the hopes of inflating their own numbers via follow-backs and other gimmicks. Put the inactive accounts and the potentially fraudulent ones together and it becomes increasingly clear that audience size is a poor measure of influence.

In fact, in 2010, researchers analyzed nearly 55 million Twitter accounts in terms of how many followers they had, the number of retweets their messages generated and how many mentions they received. Not surprisingly, perhaps, they found that a high follower-count was a sign of popularity but not necessarily of influence.

Retweets and mentions, on the other hand, indicate true influence because they mean that there’s an actual person behind that Twitter handle, that they’re listening to what you’re saying and that they think enough of it to share it with others. It’s called engagement and it — not your follower-count or any other vanity metric — is what social media is really about.

As Nilofer Merchant writes in the Harvard Business Review,

When companies think of social media, they hope to get consumers to “like” them or “fan” them, as if that increased connection is meaningful. The social object that unites people isn’t a company or product; the social object that most unites people is shared value or purpose.

Doctor Takeaways

1. Measure metrics that matter

If you’re truly engaging with your followers, they’ll share your tweets with others. Fortunately, you can track those metrics, either through Twitter itself or any number of third-party services, including HootSuite, SocialFlow and TweetStats.

2. Engage with your most active followers

Once you’ve identified the followers who are sharing your content, let them know you appreciate them and their efforts. Thank them for mentions and retweets; send them a (private) Direct Message (DM) for more personal communications and consider following them back.

About Rob Lovitt

Rob Lovitt is a longtime writer and editor who believes every good business has a great story to tell. He has written for dozens of magazines and websites, including NBCnews.com, Expedia.com and the inflight magazines of Alaska, Horizon and Frontier airlines.

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