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Why Reach Is No Longer The Key To Social Media ROI: Analytics Corner

Do you feel like your Facebook page post or tweets are not connecting with people as much as they used to do?  You aren’t alone.  Social media platforms are taking the offensive to strengthen user experience on their platform.  They are adjusting their algorithms, de-emphasizing reach as a critical metric for social media success

Reach traditionally represents the size of an audience being attracted to a social media post or profile.  But the days of follower count supremacy are waning, as social media platforms have begun to acknowledge reach’s shortcomings.  Reach is valuable when first establishing the credibility of a profile, or starting an ad campaign, but it provides few meaningful long-term insights.

There are several reasons why social platforms are making an about face on reach.  First, platforms have attracted a considerable number of global citizens, reaching a peak for average usage metrics and possibly viewer attention. The latest Pew Institute survey on social media revealed that “roughly two-thirds of U.S. adults (68%) now report that they are Facebook users, and roughly three-quarters of those users access Facebook on a daily basis.”  The median American uses three of the eight social platforms Pew Institute features in its analysis, so there’s an audience spending a lot of time online, but fewer opportunities to connect with brand new users.

Second, blame fake news.   

The most well known platforms are recognizing the need to revise their algorithms so that poorly vetted content does not drive users away.   For example, Facebook changed its news feed to show more content from family and friends rather than publishers.  Founder Mark Zuckerburg explained the change in a post last January. In a CNN interview, Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter and Square, shared similar concerns. He is now cautious about follower metrics as a reliable algorithm signal, saying  “We’re ready to question everything.”   The top platforms are recognizing content pollution on their streams – media from all kinds of users being overaggressive in gaining attention, and often making users tune out. 

Social ads have become another critical factor, a consequence of the algorithm quality changes.  The major platforms have introduced various forms of paid media, giving a priority to ads and sponsored posts within a feed. Social ads are not only a staple of social media platforms’ business models, but they are now the staple for advancing a message to the right user.

All of these developments mean marketers should reassess their budgets for paid, earned, and owned media, with a stronger attribution effort on paid media and engagement content for owned and earned media.

Paid media can be planned with messages that advocate for the products or services a customer needs while that customer is undergoing an experience, or having a micro-moment. The best marketing messages educate the customer on what the product, service, or brand has to offer, sparking a journey that leads to a purchase.

Moreover, modern digital advertising is ripe for AI intervention. Programmatic ads can quickly tailor messages for demographics and online behavior with AI-enhanced features, such as predictive content based on which pages a potential customer viewed on a site.  The end result is a marketing message more dynamically targeted for relevance to the consumer.

Marketers can map engagement metrics to segments within their analytics reports to determine attribution gaps in the content.  On a positive note, this is can highlight content that is engaging well over time. But mapping metrics to segments can also help highlight how to adjust the analytics to remedy those attribution gaps. It also serves as a baseline reminder that engagement concepts based on a given channel may be change as customers discover a brand across channels.

Social media platforms have long sought to attract lots of users, to make their platform interesting to use, and viable for marketing. By all accounts they have succeeded, but they now must adjust the type of desired social activity by minimizing reach as the end-all purpose for use.   In the end, marketers must be just as aware and sophisticated about how their social profile is cultivating the right audience.


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