Subscribers counts are useless vanity metric. Engagement is what matters.

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As human beings it’s easy to get attached to vanity metrics.

We use numbers a lot to quantify and measure everything in the world, so it makes a lot of sense to use those numbers for our own metrics.

On the Internet, as a “content creator” I have a few metrics I track to give me some sense of measure of how well (or bad) I’m doing.

There are many ways to look at things. I use numbers because I’m an engineer by training. This isn’t right or wrong. You might think numbers are meaningless. To me, they have a meaning.

But sometimes those numbers are misleading and can drive us in the wrong direction.

This happens when numbers become vanity metrics.

Some vanity metrics are public by default. We can use them to compare with other people. And people can use them to compare us with other people. An example is YouTube subscribers or Twitter followers or Facebook likes on a page.

Some other vanity metrics are private by default. For example email subscribers.

Although private, they can become how we measure ourselves. Our worth. For example James Clear has millions of email subscribers. He says so. If I have 100 email subscribers, does this make me 10.000 times less worthy? No, of course.

But it might make me 10.000 times less “known”, 10.000 times less successful in economic terms, and I have 10.000 times less opportunities.

Those metrics, public or private, are all way overestimating the impact they give you.

I’m sure you’ve seen it: YouTube channels with hundreds of thousands of subscribers that might only get a couple thousand views per video.

Or Twitter accounts with many followers, but Tweets get very little likes or retweets or replies.

What matters really is the percentage of this number that’s actually engaging.

With social media, like Twitter or YouTube, there’s not a lot you can do. Platforms do not give you much data.

In the case of email newsletters, with most tools you typically have open rates. You can see who opened your email. This has some privacy implications, but it’s also useful.

Because at some point you can decide to drop who is not reading you. Why send emails to people that don’t open your email?

If you have 10.000 email subscribers, that’s not the metric to focus on. It’s the 3.000 or 4.000 that actually open those emails that matter. You don’t have 10.000 subscribers. You have 4.000 or 5.000, the ones that have opened your email at least once in the past 6 months or so.