The Union Metrics Blog

Reach isn’t influence. Keep your umbrella handy.

with 5 comments

Recently, we read an interesting blog post from Tom Webster about the limits of online influence as he asked for help supporting the people of Christchurch, New Zealand after the terrible earthquake they experienced. (A very worthy cause. Please help him out!)

He makes a lot of great points in this post about the weaknesses of influencer campaigns on social media like Twitter. While TweetReach doesn’t calculate influence, a number of people use our tools to help determine influence and influencers, so naturally this post grabbed our attention (and he quoted some TweetReach numbers in the post, so that helps too).  In general, we agree with Tom’s overall premise – influence is a messy, complicated concept, and far from being fully understood or properly utilized.

Matt Ridings of Techguerilla added this comment to Tom’s post:

I think what you *are* exposing is that in a medium like Twitter, simple reach has very little to do with success. And that is a big thing for people to know indeed.

We absolutely agree. Now, of course everyone wants large numbers for reach or exposure, but they have to be put into context along with action metrics like clicks or actual transactions. Our reach metric, which is the number of unique Twitter accounts that tweets about a topic were delivered to, is a measure of the size of your potential audience. A high reach means a large audience, but it doesn’t guarantee that members of that audience will actually do what they’re asked.

So what is reach good for? We think reach is the universal denominator. It belongs in an equation to normalize other metrics. If reach is the size of your potential audience, how many people actually acted on a tweet? Divide your action metric by that reach. Depending on your goals, that action number could be anything from retweets to clicks to purchases on your website. With reach as a denominator, you can use this number across campaigns and time periods to start to really understand your effectiveness. Without reach to normalize these metrics, you’re flying blind. Clicks were up 20% this week? Great! But is your campaign actually improving if your reach increased by 50%?

Where does this leave influence? Right now the familiar influence metrics essentially work by saying that someone has influenced people to do some social activities in the past and therefore could potentially influence people to do them again. This “potential influence” is a little like predicting the weather by assuming it’ll do the same thing today that it did yesterday. It’s often right, but you frequently end up soaked without an umbrella. The point here is that a message from an “influencer” as part of your campaign is no guarantee that you’ll get results. Your message may not resonate with his or her audience, Twitter might be failwhaling, or it might just be a pretty day and everyone’s outside.

Successful campaigns are about reaching the right audience with the right message at the right time. Those are all difficult things to do but there are a couple approaches that can help. First, you can’t rely solely on algorithms – learn your industry and the true influencers (as humans understand the concept). Develop relationships with them and they’ll help you spread the word. Second, measure, measure, measure. This is where reach and other metrics can truly help because they give you a baseline to measure performance over time so you can try new things and learn from your mistakes. In the end combining these ingredients will help you succeed.

Photo credit: Running through the storm by yooperann

Written by Hayes D

March 1st, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Posted in Guides

Tagged with ,

5 Responses to 'Reach isn’t influence. Keep your umbrella handy.'

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  1. Nice thoughts! I’d add, though, that Reach is SUPER-critical in one way that you didn’t reference: if it’s zero, you’re wasting your energy. The same thing goes for Facebook fans, really. We get, “What’s the value of a fan?” all the time. The right answer is, “Well, it depends on what you do with them.” But, if you don’t have *any* fans, you have no one to do anything *with*.

    Now, there’s the argument: “Well, what if I’m super, super targeted and I’m only *trying* to reach a very small number of people who fit a very tight, unique profile? THEN I might be totally fine with a small reach.” Um. Yeah. You’re being argumentative. If you’re going for such a small number of people…Twitter might not be the right medium to try to engage those folk. And, I’m going to demand a specific example where that is the case.

    Like all marketing measurement, there is no single number — EVER — that will effectively measure performance of an initiative.

    Tim Wilson

    3 Mar 11 at 4:09 pm

  2. Love your site & this blog post. When delivering reach numbers to clients, I get asked all the time what it all means. Wouldn’t you say that reach is much like the circulation of a newspaper or magazine? With circulation, that number represents the potential number of people who might see your ad, but that does not mean each and every one of those people will actually see the ad. And like a tweet, even if someone sees it appear in their timeline and is logged on at the time, does that mean they actually absorb the message? I think determining reach is really presenting us with the same type of stat in a new medium.

    Erin Boudreau

    13 Apr 11 at 1:24 pm

  3. Erin, that’s a great analogy! Reach on Twitter is very much like newspaper/magazine circulation. Another good comparison is TV audience estimates. Even if someone has the TV on, we can’t say if they were actually watching at the moment something happened.

    Thanks for your comment!


    13 Apr 11 at 6:35 pm

  4. [...] efforts to use Twitter lists as a way to highlight regarded sources on a particular topic. We’ve written about influence before – messages from “influencers” don’t guarantee results. Can understanding the [...]

  5. [...] this is something we think about a lot. If you’d like to hear more, we have a few ideas about how you should use reach to contextualize and interpret your campaign’s success. We’ve also written about the [...]

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