Why Facebook Reach Doesn’t Bother Me

Lately, there is a lot of hubbub about Facebook’s alleged algorithm changes to the News Feed. Some reports have indicated that Pages experienced a 40% drop in reach; others stated that it’s holding steady. So, what’s the verdict? More importantly, why does it even matter?

As you probably know, the Facebook News Feed is prioritized by a user’s activity. If they like a bunch of sports content today; tomorrow, they will likely be shown more sports content. Facebook, like Google, has a duty to provide a relevant user experience by any means necessary.

I characterize the outcry from Page owners’ reactions as if Facebook took something from them. I don’t fault the owners entirely for this mindset because Facebook has been silent (until recently) about the News Feed ranking algorithm. However, those Page owners who invest so much of their business into Facebook should view this as an important lesson about why it’s important to diversify their online presence.

Recently, two reputable companies who make applications for Facebook, PageLever and SocialBakers, made some strong claims about the reach and engagement of the News Feed based on their clients. PageLever stated Reach has stayed relatively the same. SocialBakers claimed their data showed an average of 40% smaller audience reach. I don’t think they’re wrong. The sample sizes are quite small (N=700; N=224, respectively) to form conclusions and the data regarding 42 million Pages. Though statistically founded, these studies don’t account for a couple basic assumptions: Page owners with a financial interest will pay for those tools; and, if a Page owner is measuring their reach, they could be publishing content at a higher frequency, thus swinging the results against the interest of the owners.

Yesterday, Facebook strongly denied these claims, but did disclose four major factors into News Feed ranking including [a user’s] past interactions, audience interactions, media type interactions and spam/hide complaints.

Facebook defines reach as, “The number of people who received impressions of a Page post.” Simply, it’s the number of unique people who have seen a Page’s content. However, impressions are not unique and it’s the total number of instances where people have “seen” but have not necessarily clicked, commented or otherwise engaged with the content. Given mobile presence, frequent and disparate Facebook sessions, etc., it’s entirely possible that someone would see a given piece of content multiple times.

Page owners are freaking out over a vanity metric. In essence, if people want reach to increase without increasing engagement, they are essentially arguing to make the end-user experience of the Facebook News Feed less relevant. Those who rely on “reach” for brand reporting are living in an obsolete Nielsen-style ratings era.

If no one clicks, Likes or comments on your content, it’s not relevant. Period. Engagement, sentiment, sales hold much more weight over the vanity metrics like reach, Likes and followers. Metrics like these are nice and interesting, but I wouldn’t bet my livelihood on them.

The cold hard truth is that this is Facebook’s property. You’re only a tenant. They can change the rules, raise the rent and make changes that don’t always land in your favor. Deal with it.

Based on my review of the stats discussed this week, I recommend Page owners need to closely examine their posts’ impact including positive and negative feedback from their audience and make some adjustments. Considering that the competition for top spot in the News Feed is incredibly high, posting less frequently (perhaps a few times weekly) is a wise and calculated decision in order to lessen the odds that Facebook will de-rank your content.

Facebook is not the only way to market and reach online audiences.

I believe that Facebook should still be viewed as an existential aspect of a business’ presence online. Yes, it’s important and very much drives results, but it shouldn’t be the only investment a business makes in the world of social media and online community.

This brings up the concept of owned, earned and paid media.

Let’s be honest, most Page owners generally operate today on Facebook under the pretense of “owned” media. Forrester defines these media types as to the relationship between a brand and their online interactions. I bring this up because Page owners ought to focus more on earned media, which means to drive people to talk about the brand outside of their Page. (Paid media helps, but is outside the scope of this post.)

A successful brand leverages all three media types in an effort to “control” (I use that word loosely) the visibility of their online brand. They should do so in a way to minimize the overall/potential negative impact of any one medium. For instance, if Twitter disappeared tomorrow, would you still have an active and engaged audience?

So, I look at Facebook’s reach metric with a critical eye. What I do look at is the trends of how people are commenting on various types of content, what their sentiment and depth of their comments. If the other engagement (and sales/marketing) metrics are holding steady or are improving, I couldn’t care less about the Reach metric.


Image credit: ervega