Doing things online can be somewhat addictive.  Pretty much everything you do can be measured, so you're getting constant feedback on what's working and what isn't.  Research has suggested that Facebook and other social media platforms are more addictive than traditional vices such as alcohol and tobacco.  What is addictive is the constant feedback you receive.  Or put another way, positive feedback is the addictive element.  Seeing those numbers going up is incredibly alluring.  Last year research found that this self esteem boost was valued by young people more highly than the pleasure they get from sex.

So it's powerful stuff.  The notion of the progress principle has been touted as the cure for poor employee engagement.  Securing lots of little wins is what keeps us motivated and happy says Teresa Amabile.

When progress becomes dangerous

When we become so addicted to winning things enter dangerous ground however.  We start to crave the rush that comes with progress so much that we cheat the figures or take shortcuts purely in order to get the rush of success.

In social media such behaviour is rampant.  Things like the number of fans on Facebook we have or the size of our LinkedIn group are very easy metrics to measure.  They're also pretty easy metrics to game.  Research released earlier this year revealed the growing crowdturfing industry that exists purely to inflate those headline figures.

The big boys are no better than we are.  Facebook, Twitter, Google and LinkedIn all regularly announce the apparently booming membership numbers their networks have.  What they're less keen to publish is how many of these accounts are actually active.  At least 50% of Twitter accounts are inactive for instance.

What can you do about it?

The first thing you need to do is stop kidding yourself.  You're not on Twitter to get millions of followers.  Your business won't thrive purely because you have lots of people liking your Facebook page.  These things in themselves aren't important to your business.  If they're not important, stop measuring them.

Instead focus on what is important to your business.  Figure out what your presence on social media will do for your customers.  Figure out how your customers will benefit from what you're doing and measure that instead.  If you're using social media to provide customer service for instance, measure each successful problem resolution.  That counts as your social ROI.

You then need to work out how each success with your social purpose adds up in pounds and pence.  So to use your customer service example, how much value do you earn from solving a customers problem via social media.  Figure that out and you have your business ROI.

Do both of those things and you have some proper things to measure that impact your business.  What's more, if you do both of those things well then the other stuff will generally take care of itself.  If you're providing real value to customers then membership stats will rise to reflect that all on their own.  But just because those numbers are easy to find, don't fall into the trap of focusing on the wrong things.