~1,500 followers, but really it’s close to 0

The story of vanity metrics — with my Medium account and with startups.

There are vanity metrics all around us. Be it the follower count for our startup’s facebook/twitter/instagram page or the number of likes our updates get — most of them are actually vanity metrics.

By the time I publish this story, my medium profile would probably be having 1,370 followers. Impressive, isn’t it? Given the fact that I started 11 weeks back with 50 followers and haven’t promoted my stories on any social platform, it would appear so. And this gradual growth has been a good feeling. I won’t and can’t deny that. But the fact is, in reality my follower base would probably be in low/mid 2 digits at best. And that is what this story is all about. Identifying the vanity metrics and what are the real metrics that matter.

WHY THIS DISCREPANCY?

Any platform that thrives on consumption of content needs constant flow of content to fuel the need of its audience. It is true for Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, Quora, Medium — almost all the platforms that you see and use today. So if you keep on producing content regularly, the platform’s engine would take note of it and do two things:

  1. During the user onboarding process, it would suggest you as someone to follow every time a new user signs up (based on what he/she selects as their areas of interest)
  2. Recommend you as someone to follow to existing users. You can see it quite prominently on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn.

A huge part of my follower base, I suspect — based on some random checks — comprises of new users. I am a top writer for 8–9 different topics (most of them related to startups), so people signing up and interested in following stories on those topics might be finding my name as a person to follow.

To be fair, Medium hasn’t yet incorporated prominent discovery of writers or publications into its overall interface. The sole emphasis has been on stories, so the fact that a larger chunk of my follower base is coming from new users doesn’t surprise me.

The only place where you are suggested new people to follow is if you head over to the “Customize your interest” section. And lets be honest — how many of us would actually do that once we have signed up.

Lately, Medium has also introduced a segment called “Noteworthy Writer”, and is giving some prominence to it on its web interface, but these writers are handpicked by Medium staff. So if you are an average user, yeah — chances are worse than just slim.

THE RIGHT METRIC TO LOOK AT?

I’m not sure yet. I haven’t given it much thought as of now. But if I had to choose, I would probably go with read/views percentage, recommend/views percentage, and most importantly — comments on your stories, i.e. conversations that you have and build around your stories. The number of shares/tweets your stories get is another important metric to look at, but I don’t think Medium shares that info as of now.

Needless to say, number of recommends + how fast those recommends come is prima facia. As soon as you publish a story, it starts decaying in the eyes of the recommendation engine that suggests stories to the audience at Medium. The more recommends your stories get, and the faster they come, the more your stories would be exposed to a wide set of audience. So far, I haven’t been able to crack that even once. :-)

HOW DOES THIS CORRELATE TO STARTUPS?

Many startups are about vanity metrics. The fast growing numbers and the sheer size of them look pretty on a cleverly designed slide, helps them look juicy in front of prospective investors and VC firms, and all in all, it helps them to get on a soapbox claiming how they are finding success in cracking the market. But those numbers don’t tell the real story most of the times.

It is all about conversations and conversions!

Businesses are all about conversations and conversions. Sure, at the end of the day, conversion is what you want. Let the money start flowing in. But if the transactions are not happening, the next best thing for you and your business is to get conversations going with your audience.

Conversations → Brand recall → Trust → Transactions

Second thing that you need to keep in mind is that your best and most valuable segment of your audience are people who promote you. Those who love what you do and/or who you are so much that they would talk about you without any expectations. These are your real influencers. Keeping that in mind, let us look at some examples.

  1. When it comes to a facebook post, your most valuable action by your audience is not that like or comment, but the ‘share’. Every person that shares your update/post/content, helps you get visibility in hundreds more news feeds.
  2. In case of instagram or pinterest, it would be using the ‘send to a friend’ feature.
  3. On twitter it would be when a person engages with a tweet (replies/retweets), but adds another person to the tweet. Someone who he/she thinks might be interested in that content.

And so on.

So today I am stopping looking at my Medium vanity metric. What metric would I be looking at? And how will I try improving those numbers? I would let you know once I have zeroed down on them.

That’s it for today; see you tomorrow.

Helping businesses grow 10x faster, and scale efficiently. Top Writer — Quora, Medium. Drop in a line if you’d like help with yours. mail@abyshake.com