Reach: what is it, and what kind does your business need?


“Reach” is one of those social media metrics that can be tricky to understand. On the surface, high reach appears impressive. But dive down a little deeper and you’ll see that big numbers are not always something to brag about.

What is reach?

Each channel has its own term for “reach”: Twitter and Google both speak in terms of “impressions” while Facebook calls the same metric “reach”. Broadly speaking, it’s the number of people who are “served” your post, although more specific definitions can break the figures down further: unique reach/unique impressions measure the number of people who are served the post, while xx is the number of times a post is served (possibly to the same people more than once).

We like to think of reach as the number of people who could see your post. So reach is a metric that is all about potential, and it’s up to you to maximise it.

If someone is “served” your advertising post in their newsfeed, they could react to it in any number of ways: they might scroll right past it, glance at it but not really pay attention, actually stop to read but not do anything, stop to read and then decide to engage (like, comment or share) or click on it (if it’s a link or photo). It’s therefore important to note that reach is not the same as people reading your post – a lot of that has to do with how engaging your content is.

Think of your post as fish food and your audience as fish.

In an attempt to attract as many fish as possible, you scatter the flakes of food over the surface of a pond and it ripples out far and wide across the water. Some of the fish in the pond won’t even realise it’s there, others might happen to glance skyward and see it floating and some of them might swim towards it for a tentative nibble, decide they like it and (ideally) start gobbling it down and looking for more.

As the brand scattering out the flakes, sometimes your goal will be simply getting the flakes noticed – if you’re new and are aiming for brand recognition, or are launching a new product, service or campaign that you want as many people as possible to see, for instance. That’s when high reach is a good thing.

But if you’re a brand that is aiming to engage and interact with consumers as part of your digital marketing strategy, reach by itself isn’t a meaningful metric. It doesn’t matter how many millions of people are reached if none of them react – or take the bait, so to speak. In a scenario where you’re trying to build a community around your brand, large reach is only great if you also create substantial engagement with the people who have noticed your message.

What about my search and advertising strategy?

When it comes to search marketing, reach and impressions take on a slightly different significance. The tricky part is that while you might want conversions (people clicking through to your website, buying a product or making a donation, for instance) most of all, you may also need some campaigns that simply generate awareness.

That’s because sometimes people need to know your brand before they’re willing to interact with it. So even if you do want to drive a specific action (like a purchase or donation), you may need some campaigns to spread the word alongside campaigns that drive action. One may not work without the other.

Success here lies in finding balance, and taking a test and learn approach with every aspect of your campaign (copy, images, landing pages, targeting, keywords etc) until you find the perfect combination.

The take-home lesson?

The most important take-home message is that numbers mean little by themselves. They need to be viewed in context and alongside other data in order to provide meaningful, useful insights and information that can help a brand to grow.

If you’re looking to take your social media, search or advertising strategy to the next level, we’d love to help! Get in touch here.

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