In general, influencers have always had reach on their minds, paying particular attention to it each and every time a social platform tweaks their algorithm. Brands, on the other hand, have – in the main – been slow to measure reach; clinging instead to their fairly outdated (visible) engagement metrics (more on that below). However, as this industry has grown, developed, and had more money pumped in, brands have started to seek out a greater understanding of the return on their investment – and reach forms a fairly important part of doing just that.
What is reach?
Reach is, essentially, the number of people, or rather accounts, that have seen a particular piece of content. This is different from impressions; which is the number of times a piece of content has been seen, regardless of how many times those views came from the same people (or accounts).
On occasions, people have (and do) class reach as a measure of engagement – when it really isn’t. Reach is all about how many people saw a piece of content; not what action they took when they saw it.
Why must we be careful not to focus on reach?
So, we have to be careful not to ‘overplay’ reach. Reach is, basically, someone viewing a piece of content – and nothing more. That person might only view the content for a brief moment (before they got bored and moved on), they might not have even seen the content at all (idly scrolling through Instagram while watching TV), and in the vast majority of instances, they’ll have had little choice as to whether or not they wanted to view the content at all.
This is where a slight ignorance or amnesia seems to permeate the thinking of folks within the influencer industry. People rarely get a choice over what they see online – and that’s a fact. Certainly, when it comes to something like YouTube, they’ll mostly click to play what they think they want to see; however, even here, they might view the content, which then collects a reach stat, before frowning in disgust or yawning with boredom and moving on. When it comes to Instagram, again, the user made a choice as to who they followed; but, the content (be it on Instagram Stories or the Instagram feed) is served up to them, without their active input. Similarly, with YouTube, viewers of content on Instagram will have been registered as a reach stat; but, this may be content they hated, found boring, or didn’t even actually see.
How should we be measuring influencer marketing campaigns?
This is where, as with a lot of statistics in digital media, having a single metric can be fairly meaningless and what anyone and everyone in this industry should really be doing is combining these statistics to form the basis of their assessment of success.
By this, I mean doing things such as taking a reach figure and comparing it to engagement – which is where my criticism of the standard engagement rates is worth bringing up.
The ratio of likes and comments to an influencer’s audience size (which is, essentially, how engagement rates are calculated throughout the industry) is a fundamentally flawed way of measuring their audience’s reception to their content. All this tells you is how many people engaged with content from a possible number that could be reached (and even that statement is mildly flawed). What’s far more important is to measure likes and comments (and every other engagement metric available – and there are many more) against reach.
Taking this approach shows the ratio of engagement to viewers, which is a far better indication of content performance. Basically, what this shows is how many of the people who saw a piece of content, actively engaged with that content. This removes all of the negative factors mentioned above – the hatred of content, boredom of content, or the lack of seeing the content – that reach contains. When people hate content, are bored of it, or didn’t see it, they rarely engage with it; so, this ratio is a far truer indication of the viewer’s interest in the content.
Similarly, the reach can be played ‘backwards’ against the audience metric, to reveal a reach rate – a statistic which shows the percentage of an influencer’s audience that they reach. This is an incredibly useful statistic, as it’s a far better stat than audience size for calculating an influencer’s value: why pay for an influencer on the basis of their 100,000 Instagram followers, if they only ever reach 5% of them? It also helps overcome influencer fraud, as – typically – fraudulent influencers have incredibly low view rates, as the audience, they’ve gained by buying and/or botting aren’t real or aren’t interested in viewing their content.
All-in-all, reach is something that the industry seems to be picking up on more and more – and with good reason. However, as with a lot of statistics, it’s something that can be fairly meaningless on its own – and actually requires comparison with other statistics, before its value as an assessment of content (or influencer) performance can be realised.