Bridging the Gap Between Vanity Metrics + Meaningful Measurement

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The University of South Florida (USF) is a Preeminent Research University and AAU member with 3 campuses across the Tampa Bay region. USF is the fastest rising university in the U.S., dedicated to empowering students to maximize their potential for lifelong success. USF’s University Marketing and Communications team needed help finding the right metrics to track their progress.

Media Cause partnered with USF to establish a data measurement strategy and custom dashboard centered on their marketing and communication efforts to improve their brand reputation and build brand ambassadors.

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The Outcome

We established a cohesive data measurement strategy that bridged the gap between vanity metrics and meaningful performance measurement across channels to ensure that USF was equipped with the information they needed to bolster the university’s reputation and bring USF’s world-class educational programs to more students.




platforms incorporated

channels measured

actionable measurement strategy + dashboard

The Challenge

USF came to Media Cause for help increasing the university’s national reputation and activating internal brand champions.


The goals set out by USF were not only ambitious, but they were also new. USF’s communications and marketing team needed a unified way to measure their efforts and align stakeholders on a common vision of impact. 


The team was working across a handful of decentralized systems, which had made previous efforts at uniting stakeholders challenging to say the least. The data sources were tangled up with other goals outside their purview, and they had to work tirelessly across the university for information and access. 


Ultimately, the team needed a regular report that would ease communication and collaboration, and help them make faster, data-driven decisions when it came to strategy.

The Strategy

Our approach to data measurement for USF’s brand reputation and marketing work was not easy. Measuring outputs or relying on standard performance measurement would not be enough We needed to measure for outcomes and impact, and we needed to do it using the data that was available. USF needed a strong and scalable data measurement strategy that would move with them as they pivoted and iterated in the years to come.


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South Florida Bulls Logo

Measurement Strategies

When developing strong measurement strategies, we always ask questions, including:

  • What goal are we trying to reach?
  • What do the available metrics tell us?
  • What do the available metrics not tell us?
  • What additional data would we need to collect to bridge the gap so that we have the information we need?

Data Measurement - Pushing Beyond Vanity Metrics

A large part of why this measurement strategy was successful is because we hit pause on labeling vanity metrics as key performance indicators.


For example, we didn’t want to just measure the number of media hits associated with USF. While it’s nice to say, “our organization had 500 media hits last month,” it doesn’t necessarily tell us whether the media coverage was aligned with the information shared in the press release or if it was emboldening the brand.


We needed to find a way to incorporate quality into these metrics so that the USF team could glean as much information as possible when reviewing reports. So, while we did include the number of media hits as a metric to measure, we also highlighted the number of on-message media hits and the number of media hits in target outlets as our key performance indicators.

Identifying Proxy Measures for Brand Awareness + Advocacy

National reputation ties closely with brand awareness, and our team at Media Cause worked closely with USF to refine and elevate the university’s brand. However, we did not have a brand tracker to provide information about how our work impacted brand awareness or perception for USF’s target audiences.


Without a brand tracker in place, we leaned on proxy measures to analyze trends in performance that brand work may have influenced. These included monitoring branded search volume, direct site traffic, and organic site traffic – all metrics that can be influenced by brand awareness and perception. We also incorporated a social amplification rate – or the rate at which an organization’s followers share content to their networks – as a proxy for brand advocacy.

Dashboard Development

We translated the finalized data measurement plan into an interactive web-hosted PowerBI dashboard that the USF team could use regularly to understand their marketing activities’ performance better. 


The dashboard featured key performance indicators and supplementary metrics from the measurement plan, providing the team with an actionable overview of SEO, Email, Website, Social Media, and Earned Media performance all in one place. This addressed the need to unify data across a decentralized environment while providing USF with data that can feed into their marketing and communications strategy to help them reach their goals.