Mixpanel says focus on one key metric -- writers, that means you, too

By Richard Nieva , written on December 21, 2012

From The News Desk

Every good company has a different set of core values. And every good business model has a way to see if they are meeting those goals. For YouTube, it might be aggressively tracking video views. For Dropbox, number of files synced. For Twitter, Tweets, naturally.

This is not revolutionary thinking. But one company, Mixpanel, has recently coined a term for it that articulates its importance -- the OKM, or "one key metric." I hate to use corporate jargon in posts, mostly because there is often a better way to explain what is happening to readers that makes you sound like less of a tool, but this one seems interesting.

Mixpanel specializes in mobile analytics that it claims are more telling than just page views -- like retention or engagement. Clients include Airbnb and ZeptoLabs, a game maker. “Focus on one really harsh, hard to hit metric that you would bet your company on,” says chief executive Suhail Doshi. For Mixpanel’s customers, it’s a way to get a company to focus on one thing, instead of 50 lesser things.

In fact, Doshi is at war with the pageview. When you are clicking through pictures on Facebook, you’re not generating any pageviews, Doshi pointed out at a recent enterprise event.

That's not revolutionary either. Advertisers got past it as the end-all-be-all metric a long time ago, when many started recording things like “cost per click” (CPC), or “cost per impression” (CPI), or “cost per action” (CPA) – what Facebook does when an advertiser gets some relevant information about you, like a zip code.

So I followed up with Doshi and asked, "What's the OKM for PandoDaily?" There's a slew of different approaches for media companies -- including debates about CPC versus CPI -- but the conversation took an interesting turn when Doshi mentioned an OKM for individual writers on the site. There’s a number of different things you could look at, including social media shares and pageviews. But it's never a good thing to get too caught up in numbers.

For example, I’m going to write this post, and then try really hard not to think about how many times you, the reader, or anyone else looks at it. It’s also hard not to look at that little Tweet counter up there on the top left. And I’m totally not going to ask you to do your part to get that number up to 100 or 200 or 5,000. Because that would be petty.

As a writer, it's easy to get warped into how well or poorly your stories are doing. And readership numbers -- whether they be pageviews or Tweets -- can take on a bigger meaning than they perhaps should. “That’s why some people call them vanity metrics,” says Doshi.

Of course, paying too close attention to any type of metric can be dangerous for writers, because it can lead to writing pointless click-bait. Or it can encourage sensationalism. Or it can seduce you into writing articles engineered around SEO. Justin Bieber fiscal cliff Mayan calendar Mark Sanchez trade? That's a big reason our editor-in-chief Sarah Lacy refuses to let us see them.

So what does Doshi think the OKM could be for a PandoDaily writer? “Comments,” he offers. It’s one of the sincerest ways to track engagement. That’s something that Sarah has been preaching internally for a long time -- along with other forms of social media engagement -- but it’s good to know the metrics expert agrees.

But even that can be gamed, when it's measured only as an absolute number. It can veer into trying to be controversial for the sake of controversy, rather than writing about things that strike a chord.

If you frequent this site, you know that PandoDaily gets some of the most thoughtful, provocative comments on the Web, and it’s the mark of a truly keyed-in community. It’s one of the many things that new media has going for it – an evangelical, rabid readership that knows its shit and isn’t afraid to speak up. It’s something you don’t trade for the world. And for a writer, it’s gold.

But like a Klout score, even that can't be boiled down to just a number.

[Image courtesy bradhoc]