When it comes to measuring social media campaigns, there are 101 different social metrics we can use. Some, like fans and followers, mean very little outside of their place in whatever network you’re measuring. Others, like leads or conversion rates, matter an awful lot in a far wider sense.
But what about ‘reach’?
For me, reach sits somewhere between the pointless social metrics and the meaningful social metrics. In some instances and if measured correctly, I believe it has great value. In others, it doesn’t.
Last week I wrote a post that simplified social media marketing into three words, one of which was reach. It kicked up a bit of a storm, which I expected and was fine with. But a conversation I had on Facebook with Danny Brown and Gini Dietrich about the validity of reach as a metric got me thinking.
Danny calls reach a “bullshit metric”, and wrote a post about why a while back. Gini, in her less sweary style, called reach a “vanity metric”. But I’m not sure I agree with them.
The reason is that there are essentially two types of reach metrics: potential reach and true reach.
Potential reach is similar in nature to ‘circulation figures’, still widely quoted in the PR industry. It’s the combined number of followers of anyone who interacts with you; those who could, maybe, possibly see your message.
So if I publish a tweet that’s retweeted by four people, each of whom has 3000 followers, my potential reach is 4 x 3000 = 12,000 + 4500 (my own follower number) = 16,500. But that’s codswallop.
What if the only people who actually saw my original tweet were the four users who retweeted it? My reach would be 4, not 16,500. And that’s where accusations of vanity and bullshit come into play. Quite rightly.
Worse still is ‘impressions’, often confused with or misquoted as reach. Impressions is similar to the ‘opportunities to see’ figures quoted by advertising agencies. Whereas reach simply collates follower numbers, impressions multiplies these by the number of times content is published.
Going back to my tweet example, if that tweet I sent was retweeted twice by two of those four people (so six retweets in total), I’ve generated (6 x 3000) + 4500 = 22,500 impressions. Which is an even more impressive stat to quote but still doesn’t change the fact that I may only have reached 4 people.
Where reach does have value, however, is where you can measure the actual number of unique people who have seen your message. With Facebook, for example, you can easily get a measure of the number of unique individuals who’ve seen your content over any given one, seven or 28 day period, or for any post.
And if your goal is to communicate a message and create awareness across social media, should true reach not play at least a role in evaluating the success of that?
Big Numbers v Accuracy
As I said in my last post, however, reach is not the holy grail. Not by a long shot. Relevance and influence have a huge role to play, and that’s before we even start talking about proper, hard business metrics. But to dismiss reach completely is, in my opinion at least, a little shortsighted.
Would I prefer to report on reach or leads generated? Leads, every single time. Is it always possible to do so? No. And do clients demand to see reach? Yes.
Potential reach and impressions are seductive for marketers because they’re big numbers. The challenge for us is to find the most accurate way we can to report on true reach and to forgo the big numbers in favour of accuracy.
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Posted by Paul Sutton