Reach Is NOT A Sign Of Social Success
When measuring success, bigger always seems to be better. You want to have big numbers to show off the awesome work you’ve done. The bigger the better. To get numbers that look the best, marketers often look for the largest number they can find. The problem is, those big numbers often mean very little to the actual success. On social, reach is that over-inflated, almost meaningless number.
Reach is the ultimate potential of a Twitter message. It’s the total number of people that could have seen a message. Reach or potential reach is the number of people that follow you, along with the number of people that follow everyone that retweets your message.
If you have 1,000 Twitter followers and tweet once, your reach is 1,000. If you tweet twice, your reach is 2.000 and so-on. If you tweet once and someone with 500 followers retweets you, the message reach is 1,500. You can see how the reach of a message can quickly add up as the messaging quantity and retweets increase. This gives you big numbers in a hurry, but what does it really tell you?
Little Or Nothing
Reach shows the potential number of people that could have seen your message. And that’s the problem with it. Potential is nowhere near actual. Reach includes countless followers that will never ever see your message and yet, you’re counting them as if they matter.
These followers that will never see your message include inactive accounts that haven’t been used in years. It includes fake accounts created by spammers too. Barack Obama has 19.5 MILLION fake followers. That means his reach numbers include 19.5 million people that will never see his message, every time he tweets. Those fake followers would skew reporting of success by 1/3. Would you or your boss be OK with reporting numbers that you know are off by more than 30%?
Twitter is a real-time social network. People see things as they happen and generally don’t see older posts unless they’re really bored and scroll way back in their timeline (how far back they see will differ by user depending on how many people they follow and how active they are). While reach measures people that could have seen your message, it doesn’t tell you how many actually did, like impressions does. Reach simply assumes people saw your message. People that don’t check their accounts regularly are still included in this measurement. If someone is on vacation and doesn’t check their phone for a week at a time, they’re still part of this number even though they never saw your message. Why would you measure someone that didn’t see your message as part of your success?
Playing The System
Not only does reach measure a lot of people that will never see your message, it’s also very easy to game. Want to show higher reach numbers? Just tweet more! If you have 100,000 followers and tweet once, your reach is 100,000. Tweet 10 times and your reach is 1 million. If you tweet 100 times in the middle of the night when your followers are asleep and aren’t going to see your messages, your reach still climbs to 10 million.
More active campaigns will naturally have more messages which means higher reach. This higher reach doesn’t mean the campaign saw any more people driven to your website or engaging with your content but measuring by reach means that it appears more successful. You may have a single tweet that drove 100x more people to your site than your entire campaign with dozens of tweets, yet by looking at reach, the large campaign that drove less traffic will look as if it performed better. Do you see how silly this whole reach thing is?
So what should you use to measure the success of your messaging instead of reach? That really depends on the goals of your program. If awareness is what you’re looking for, impressions and engagements can help paint the picture. If you’re looking to drive people to your site or content, clicks would be the best show of success.
While other metrics may not offer the big numbers that reach does, picking metrics that show actual interaction with your content do a far better job of showing social success. These metrics show how people actually responded to your content, rather than just how many would have seen it in an ideal world. Wouldn’t you rather know if people cared about your post instead of simply that some people might have seen it?
Sure Signs Of Success
Twitter reach is a metric that many have used to measure social success in their programs for some time. While Twitter recently started offering actual impression numbers for organic posts (previously this was only available with paid promotion), they don’t currently offer this metric through the Twitter API. The API is how most businesses get their performance numbers (using tools like Buffer, Sprinklr, Hootsuite, and others). Until the API offers the ability to pull impressions from reporting, we should be focusing on actual performance indicators such as clicks and engagement rates.
Social measurement and really understanding what the numbers tell us is something many struggle to understand. Those that can figure out what the numbers really mean and then take action based on their findings are in a far better place than those that simply report their success based on the biggest number they can find, such as reach. Understanding that reach isn’t a good performance indicator and looking to the more important KPIs will give social marketers a better understanding of how they’re doing and how they can do even better.