Are dashboards symptomatic of an unhealthy obsession with numbers?

Gone are the days of fluffy explanations. Marketing and communications professionals are increasingly expected to provide measurements, metrics and real time data. Whether it is to interrogate a campaign, set benchmarks or justify investment, the numbers count.

Social media is no different, and it’s not short on numbers.

From Facebook fans (recently valued at $138 each) to online mentions; campaign specific #hastags to re-tweets (and the reach of the re-tweets); it’s quite easy for the numbers to spiral into obsession, and for the meaning of the numbers to get a little lost.

With a view to making it easy to see and digest this information, I have been looking into dashboards, and exploring how these can be of use to us in the social communications world, both in relation to collating and then acting on information.

Enter my current favourite, Geckoboard (an example of a dashboard is above, and there are more on the company’s Facebook page).

Pulling together data from a wide variety of different applications, it appears that I can have all the metrics I want in one place and updating every 15 minutes or more.

Wow. Or maybe not?

Geckoboard does exactly what I was looking for but it also opens a can of worms.  How do we make logical, real connections between different metrics? What metrics does your dashboard user need/demand? How do we ensure a relevant picture is presented? And, from a business perspective, what do those numbers really mean?

There are some big and difficult questions there; but, assuming that the numbers are the starting place for sense-making and benchmarking, here’s a list of considerations that I think anybody wanting to share social media metrics across a wider organisation should explore:

Set up:


  • Where do you get this information from currently?
  • How often do you need the information updated?
  • Do you need the dashboard to just provide the information or does it need to provide a gateway to the detail behind the numbers?




  • Do you really need to see live, up to the minute information (monitoring) or is your tool for benchmarking or campaign review (evaluation)?
  • Which metrics count? For example, are we interested in site views or Facebook fans or Twitter mentions? – and what do these separate actions show?
  • What are the key performance indicators that we are watching?
  • How do social media metrics align with communication goals; for example, is a Facebook Like a sign of engagement; or a Twitter click through a sign of engagement?



  • What systems are other parts of the company using to measure different elements of the business?
  • Will the information be part of reporting to your boss and on up the business?
  • What kind of action are we expecting in response to the numbers presented? For example: does a lower than average pick up on a campaign #hashtag mean that action needs to be taken to get the Twitter campaign out to more people?

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