You can do an internet search on social media metrics and reveal millions of results each detailing the importance of metrics, how to read metrics, how to capture metrics and just about anything else you can imagine. But me . . . I want to talk about a way that metrics are not measured, weighted metrics, the metrics that are real. What am I on about? Far too often (everyday actually) I see the gaming of metrics. I’m not talking about flat out fraud in which bots and algorithms pump up numbers by spamming likes, retweets, shares, etc back and forth between themselves so that someone can hold up a report to the company that hired them and say, “Look at these amazing numbers!”

Metrics and data are only valuable if they’re appropriately collected and genuine; and I see a lot of metric gaming. What’s an organic viewer? Someone who found your content and found it valuable on their own terms and voluntarily chose to like or share it in some way. So how do social media managers, marketers, and even personal users game their metrics?

Some methods are innocuous and generally accepted, “Like us on Facebook!”

I’m not personally a fan of this because it colors intent. Put up your content, if it’s good, people will +1 it, or like it, or favorite it. Why do you want to inflate your metrics with potentially imaginary viewers? If people aren’t returning to you, you’re failing the primary objective of social media, which is to build and cultivate relationships – not to acquire numbers for a quarterly report (and believe me, if you set expectations that your value revolves around the numbers, that’s what people will come to demand). Short version: I’d rather have 10 genuine viewers who keep coming back than 100 one-time gold star clickers.

Others are somewhat disingenuous and sneaky (and are often promoted as valid tactics): “Find highly connected social media users and friend them and interact with them.”

This reminds me of brown-nosers, those people at work who disregard everyone except those who they deem valuable to their needs. It might be effective, but your numbers aren’t yours at the end of the day. You didn’t accomplish any growth through value of your content, you accomplished growth through gaming the system. Did the person who shared your content care at all about it? Or are they just gaming back at you building a false relationship in which you’re simply boosting each others numbers but have no interest in each other. It’s a dilemma I face myself. I know very well that I can reach out to highly influential people and slowly get them to share my work, but it’s a grey area in terms of social ethics. Yes, I do want the greater audience where I might find genuine interest; but how am I reaching these people?

And lastly, you have those who are disappointing: “Hi @JoeShmoe, please retweet this.”

It really bothers me when I see this; shamelessly asking someone to share your work. It’s almost an admission that you’re not willing to put any effort into either creating quality content or putting in any effort to attract viewers on merit of your actual marketing skills.

This really is a difficult internal discussion to have with yourself. Because it means taking a look at your analytics pages and thinking, “How many of these people could care less? Why do I value their numeric representation as a piece of data that showcases my reach or value as a social media manager?”

When you ask someone how many friends they have, you’re likely to hear something along the lines of, “Well, I have just a few real friends, y’know ones that I’m really close to, but I know a ton of people.” That’s how it is with social media, you can have a ton of traffic, lots of sharing and whatnot, but at the end of the day, the only viewers that matter are the ones that keep coming back to you because they want to. Because you have provided real value to them. Those are the metrics you want.