For better or for worse, Facebook made it easier for people to report or block page posts in September. Since then, the need to tread carefully with posts has increased dramatically; too many reports or blocks can hurt a page's performance dramatically. This is an important topic that will be covered more in-depth in a future series of articles, but for now it's important to note.
As Facebook's ability to drive traffic and improve branding continues to increase, the need to understand the metrics grows as well. Fans, the way that many businesses in the past (and some still presently) judged their effectiveness has never been as important as total reach, but now it's even more important to note because of increased usage of the network. More people are on it and they're spending more time on a daily basis. Facebook is no longer an option for businesses. It's a must-have.
First, let's get an understanding of what reach really is on Facebook.
How are People "Reached"?
Facebook has always received some jabs from those in the programming world for their terrible site architecture. Those in the know would tell you that the site is held together by coding duct tape and superglue when the curtain is drawn back. However, the way they are able to track people and their eyeballs is unquestionably elegant.
When someone is "reached", it means that a post or advertisement was presented to them on screen. Facebook knows what you see and what you don't see. For example, if you post something on your page, it will be available for your fans to see on their news feed. For them to see it (and thus, be reached), it has to register as appearing to them directly. Let's say someone logs in and they start seeing some of the items in their news feed. If they scroll down far enough to see your post, they were reached. If you post is below where they scroll, they were not reached. The post had the potential to be presented to them but if it doesn't make it to their screen, they don't count.
We'll go into more detail about how to improve reach and sustain it in future articles, but for now, let's take a look at why reach is so much more important than number of fans.
Real versus Artificial Indicators
Social media is loaded with numbers that are relatively meaningless. One of those numbers is Facebook fans. That's not to say that you don't need them. It only means that a low number of high-quality, engaged fans would be much better than a high number of low-quality fans. In fact, having too many fans that aren't engaged can actually hurt your chances of having your message seen by those who are.
The image above is a snapshot of a page's reach statistics for a month. The total number of fans is relatively low - from 360 up to 404 beginning to end in the graph. However, you see a sharp spike in people reached. This was accomplished through Facebook advertising and clearly highlights how the reach was exponentially increased as a result.
Important Note: Do not fall into the trap of jumping straight into Facebook advertising without fully understanding it. Facebook users are extremely particular about what they see on their news feeds. Done improperly, Facebook ads can generate an incredible boost in the beginning, but this can fall very quickly even with an increasing budget if it's not positioned absolutely properly. Running Facebook ads is simple. Running them properly takes experience and understanding.
Getting the right fans, people who are interested in what you are posting, is extremely important. The number of fans is a blip on the overall Facebook marketing strategy. I would contend that a properly-run page with 500 good fans can get a higher and more worthwhile reach than a poorly run page with 50,000 weak fans. In Facebook, it's about how many people see your message, not how many people like your page. One has a loose effect on the other, but it's a misleading concept. The math and algorithms behind it all aren't difficult at all to understand. It simply takes a little research.
When you're gauging the effectiveness of your Facebook marketing efforts, look first towards reach. This is the number that you must manage. It's the number that is hardest to maintain at high levels with or without Facebook advertising, but it's also the one that has the greatest opportunity to improve your overall business performance.