Fake metrics: Impressions are the new hits

We all know that HITS stands for How Idiots Track Success. Well, IMPRESSIONS stands for Idiots Making Pretentious Resources Endlessly So Suckers In Organizations Notice Something. It’s the next chapter in the endless saga of the Cult of Volume.

So much human work is hugely wasteful. So rarely is the question: How do I serve the customer better? Usually, the questions are: How do I serve my career? How do I get promoted? Or, how do I survive here? And the answer is nearly always: By sucking up to your boss. And the best way to suck up to a boss is to produce lots of stuff and to come up with magic, very big numbers. Big, big numbers will always create an impression.

Back in the old school days we pored over the website analytics and one number always jumped out. It was, of course, HITS. All the other numbers were small in comparison to HITS. And that of course was the number we reported. A big number. Because everyone loves big numbers.

I’ve been walking around Berlin these days and I have to tell you, I’m having a major impact on the city. I’ve racked up so many impressions. Whenever I see a crowd, I mingle. I hang around crowded shops, rubbing shoulders with strangers. I’ve even talked to some people, smiled at others. So many impressions. So many impressions.

“Impressions measure the number of people who potentially, maybe, for some brief moment could have been exposed to a piece of content,” Adam Snyder wrote for AdAge in 2015. “In my humble opinion, it's out of control -- in the literal sense. Our continued reliance on this metric is detrimental to marketing and communications growth and is in direct opposition to reality.”

Still, the game goes on, chasing impressions, chasing fake numbers. Irrelevant, inaccurate, counterproductive numbers that feed our worst instincts to chase volume at any cost. All the worst practices that you can think of have their roots in the Cult of Volume. A culture obsessed with size. Fake metrics. Fake followers. Fake news. So many marketers and communicators chasing the easy win, the career-boosting fake numbers that will impress the senior managers, because to this day, 90% of senior managers are still clueless when it comes to digital.

The fakers don’t judge content on whether it is useful or not but on how much of a short-term hit and high it can provide. The new feature or new app or new website is not about better serving customers but rather about better serving the careers of those who create these fake things.

Because in this shiny, new digital world, so many are still judged by the new things they create, rather than by the old things they maintain and improve. And new things only have value if they create lots of fake HITS and fake impressions.

Quality still matters even if it is generally ignored. True value is rarely found in measuring volume. True value is found by measuring the actual experience of customers as they seek to complete their top tasks. The new metrics focus on customer outcomes, not organizational inputs. When you’re measuring volume, it’s so easy to fake it. It’s much harder to fake a satisfied customer.



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