Reach isn’t always what we assume it to be. The reach metric has come to join “likes” as one of the least useful metrics for business on social media. Why is this?

  • Reach doesn’t equate to actual attention from followers
  • Reach calculations aren’t transparent
  • There are far more useful metrics for business

Let’s explore this a bit more.

Reach isn’t eyeballs.

There is a collective agreement in the marketing world that Reach equates to the number of people who saw your content.

With organic content, it’s about how many people saw your post in their feed.

Woman viewing mobile phone at a lake
How many posts do you recall seeing on your feed today?

With ads, it’s how many people saw your ad in their feed.

Reach is different from Impressions, though — yet many of us seem to treat them like they’re the same.

For example, a Facebook ad may have achieved 12,009 impressions but only reached 7,226. Does this then mean that 7,226 people saw the ad?

Not necessarily.

Think about how you use social media feeds.

You could be on Facebook scrolling through posts from friends, family, ads and businesses. How many of them do you notice? And how does Facebook measure that?

Algorithms can, hypothetically, notice a slowdown of the scrolling that indicates that a specific post is being looked at. But is this necessarily what is being reported?

We don’t know. And we’re not likely to know.

What we do know is that Reach metrics on all social platforms (not just Facebook) is a black box of measurements that we have no visibility of.

We see a number and have to trust that it’s true.

We don’t know how Reach is calculated.

According to Wikipedia;

Social media reach is a media analytics metric that refers to the number of users across a particular content on a social platform such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

Social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Spotify and many more, have their ways of tracking, analysing and reporting the traffic on each platform.

Man at desk with calculator and computer screen
We don’t really know how reach is calculated by each platform

So it’s the social platforms themselves that calculate reach. All in their very own private and opaque ways.

This means you can’t accurately compare reach from one platform to the next.

If we knew that TikTk, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Mastodon measured reach the same way, we’d at least be able to compare them honestly.

But we don’t know this.

Social platforms are not transparent about what they base their metrics on — apart from video views which range between 1 second on TikTok and 3 seconds on Instagram.

So if we don’t know what reach is, how come it’s the first metric we turn to when we are reporting to clients, management and executives?

It’s because Reach looks good.

The numbers look great compared to other metrics like engagement, actions or clickthrough.

You might “reach” 1 million people but only have engagement from 1200 and a clickthrough of 17.

One million sounds a hell of a lot better than 17.

There are far more useful business metrics than Reach.

If we’re not using reach as a particularly reliable or valid metric for our business presence on social media, then what should we be using?

First, engagement is a far better indication of your impact on an audience.

This is because engagement is based on actions.

Engagement actions include likes, comments, shares, link clicks, and video views — things people have intentionally done. Be careful with video actions, though, as video tends to auto-play on almost all platforms.

Why are these a better indicator of a social media post’s success?

It’s because they mainly involve a voluntary action to be measured. You won’t be measured unless you did something in response.

This means that you not only noticed the post. You didn’t just read the post. You interacted with it in some way.

Some platforms include actions as a measurement, particularly in their ad platforms.

Actions on ads can include a video view (which can be reported as 1-second, 3-second or even full through-plays. Actions also include link clicks to internal and external locations like websites and landing pages. Facebook can even tell the difference between a link click and a landing page view if the user hasn’t elected to block external tracking on their browser.

The most useful metrics on social media are those tied to your goals for being on social media in the first place.

This includes landing page views, adding an item to a cart once a user is on your website, or even a conversion (which could be a button click, a purchase, a booking or a form submission, depending on what you’re measuring.)

The Bottom Line

Just like impressions, the reach metric is an artificial measurement that can’t be trusted to be either accurate or comparable between platforms.

The danger in presenting this algorithmically interpreted metric to clients and management is that you’re setting unrealistic expectations of the outcome of social media efforts and artificially inflating the real story behind social media marketing — which depends on whatever your goals are for being on social media.

Unless your goal is to reach as many people as you can for no defined reason at all.

Dante St James is the founder of Clickstarter, a Meta Certified Lead Trainer, a Community Trainer with Meta Australia, a digital advisor with Business Station, an accredited Digital Solutions advisor and presenter, and the editor at The Small Marketer. You can watch free 1-hour webinars and grow your digital skills at Dante’s YouTube Channel.

Photo of Dante St James

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