Going Beyond Social Media Reach

We’re a little too focused on collecting humans like marbles.

Our fans. Followers. Subscribers. Impressions.

Once upon a time, numbers like gross circulation mattered a bit more, because the available channels and paths for information were somewhat limited. So by putting yourself visibly in one of them, chances were pretty good that you’d actually be seen, and command a fair bit of someone’s attention, at least for a few moments.

Now? Not nearly. Clicking “follow” or “like” is a fleeting, non-commital moment. And just as easily, that attention is off and elsewhere. (How many pages have you liked – whether sincere or just out of support for a friend – and never revisited?). It’s the equivalent of someone picking up the flyer and tossing it in the next trash can. Veneered attention is so easy to give out, because it doesn’t take our time, our effort, or even our brainpower. We simply need to click. And move on.

Is that really the only way you want to define success?

What That Number Does Tell You

What the larger network size represents – has always represented – is potential.

The number of your fans, followers, blog subscribers – they only ever represent the possible scope of your network. And it’s likely an inflated one at that.

Not all of those people are paying attention at any given time, certainly not in today’s firehose of information. An even smaller portion of those paying attention in that moment are actually in the right frame of mind to hear what you’re talking about, posting, or offering. And then again, a smaller percentage of those attentive and interested will actually act.

The balance for you is that of course, you want the greatest possible potential. So sure, building a broad network with large reach can be a good thing. But in order for that potential to pay off somehow, you want to expend the effort growing both the size of your audience as well as the density of its overall relevance to your work.

This is really what we’re saying when we refer to quality over quantity. Having 500 engaged and interested community member versus 50,000 ambivalent ones. Size only matters if there’s substance beneath.

Patience, Padawan

Building that powerful network, though – the one with both reach and relevance – takes relentless work and patience. It requires:

  • Targeting: which means understanding your audience incredibly well so that you know where to seek them out, and can identify them when you find them.
  • Filtered acquisition: focusing your work, outreach, and content on that customer profile (as well as being willing to let go of those that don’t fit the bill).
  • Nurturing: providing value to your existing customers in a consistent fashion, through content, products and services, community experiences, or otherwise.
  • Propagation: Making everything shareable and spreadable as much as possible so your current “good fit” customers and community can help you identify others.

None of these are instant. They require time and effort. Sometimes you have to adjust them based on what you learn, or how your business changes. But over time, they together return a more sustainable network fabric.

The second one is the hardest for most businesses; we’ve always done the “cast the net wide and hope to catch a few good fish” approach. It’s just far less efficient today than it once was. Why? Simple laws of supply and demand. The supply of information, opportunity, and people and businesses vying for our attention FAR, FAR outweighs the demand for it. And the minute we give our attention, we’re distracted by a zillion other things.

But there’s still a demand market based on personalized experiences, experiences with companies that feel like they’re well-tailored to our needs as customers, and backed up without outstanding service and delivery. So getting attention is harder, and keeping it is harder still. The only answer for the latter is delivering great business, relentlessly, and in response to  - and in anticipation of – what your customers tell you they need. (Remember, though, that the quality of that experiences is determined by the customers, not how awesome you think you are.)

Making the Case For Relevant Reach

Fishing with a net seems like the easier approach. And it can be tempting to just gather, gather, gather. Counting our marbles, celebrating how many we have, amassing some numbers that look impressive on a spreadsheet. And stopping there.

But when you want to show your results, is it more impressive to see:

50,000 Facebook Fans and 3% of them took a qualified action (opted into a newsletter, purchased something, wrote a positive review…something more than just clicking a link)


7,500 Twitter Followers and 20% of them took a qualified action

If I’m the boss, the second set of numbers is much more telling to me. The net result is the same on the surface – 1,500 people did something – but the second is a greater activated proportion of our audience. That ratio represents focus, efficiency, and impact. Those things matter.

So what we want isn’t just reach, but relevant reach.

If your total number of fans, followers, or subscribers is the potential, when the ratio goes up, the larger network yields even better results. Not only are they more likely to do, say, or create something that’s valuable to you, it gives you a richer base upon which to build communications and invest in those people in return. The reach may be part of the means, but it is not remotely the end.

It’s a different way of thinking. But then again, we’re in the midst of a different way of doing a lot of things.

I think we focus much too heavily on collecting superficial demonstrations of attention, and not nearly enough on the composition of the communities we build.

What do you think?

  • http://twitter.com/rhogroupee Rosemary O’Neill

    The tough thing is to figure out how to quantify those relevant actions. I think a lot of people focus on the numbers because they’re there, ripe for the quoting. We just passed the 500 mark in Twitter followers the other day, and I had a frisson of excitement, but then reminded myself that a fairly large group of those followers are “internet marketing” professionals who promiscuously follow anyone with the word “social” in their profile description. Thanks for reminding me again that the numbers are only the easiest way to measure, not necessarily the best.

  • searchwookie

    I think you’re right on the money! There’s a time and place for acquiring followers, but if they are simply passive viewers what’s the point. Thank you for this well written thought provoking piece.

  • http://blog.pushon.co.uk Psychobel

    im just about to deliver a training session to the the staff. The premise is “what is meaningful in social media” I’m just going to point them at this post and then go to the pub instead.

  • http://www.donmartelli.com Don Martelli

    Good thinking here. I’m right with you. It’s not volume of bodies that matter. It’s the volume that bodies can MOVE that makes a difference, i.e. if you can move 500 people to sign up to a conference because of creative engagement on Twitter, that’s much more valuable that 5,000 “likes” on Facebook that don’t do a damn thing. Social media campaigns need to be tied to an aspect of business — customer service, sales, etc. in order really see the value. It’s that simple.

  • http://twitter.com/PatAlexander PatAlexander

    Amber, this is an awesome post. In today’s social media world so many think the old rules don’t apply. I really find the Nurturing is totally forgotten. Thanks for sharing your insight.

  • http://twitter.com/jmitchem Jim Mitchem

    So smart. I may plagiarize word-for-word.

  • http://asimpleguyblog.blogspot.com Dan Collins


    Thank you for another exceptional post. I agree wholeheartedly that the number of followers is somewhat irrelevant to how many have taken a specific action to make the relationship a little more than voyeurism. With that said I have found that filtering by those willing to engage in real time (real time being, phone / email / comment exchange or personalized direct messaging) is an exceptional way to determine the quality of our social media community. Numbers as a stand alone are merely, as you state, a “potential” indicator. What we do with that potential, what actions we take with those people, says a lot about whether we are trying to interact meaningfully with our online community or merely broadcast and boast from the sidelines. Whether followers are willing to interact with us on a more “real” basis also speaks volumes about the value we provide to them and, to a conscientious soul, should provide reason for self evaluation to some degree.

  • http://4thress.com Carl Thress

    Solid, as always. I like the idea of “relevant reach.” Focusing on raw follower counts alone turns social media into yet another broadcast channel, which doesn’t really work, unless you’re already a well-known brand. Even then, results are hit-or-miss at best. Hit enough eyeballs — at just the right time — and you *might* get results. But if people are following but tuning you out, not paying attention at the moment, or not really interested in what you have to say, your efforts will fall on deaf ears, and the results just won’t add up. Building a following is important, of course. The more people you truly engage with, the better your results will be. But quality leads outweigh raw quantity every time.

  • http://twitter.com/webby2001 Tom Webster

    You really don’t want to play the Reach game in social media for a variety of reasons – not the least of which is this: there are better options for pure “reach.” In your home town of Chicago, Amber, you have a country station (WUSN) that has a weekly reach of about 1.3 million listeners. That’s on the radio (a dying medium?) with country music in one city: Chicago, not what you think of as a country market! The typical social media rockstar person or brand (setting aside the outliers) might have 20,000 to 50,000 followers. If my goal is solely reach, there are better tools for the job.

    So you can’t do the same – you have to do different to do better. You have to sell the game you are good at, and (again, excepting a few outliers) reach isn’t it. Reach might get you awareness and trial, but social media can get you retention, upselling, tell-a-friend behaviors and a variety of other tangible benefits that might be realized during or after a “reach” campaign. And Rosemary is right – people focus on the reach numbers because they are there, and easy to quote. The numbers you want to quote, however, are harder to obtain but better suited to your purposes.

  • Anonymous

    Amber, first of all, let me just say that I agree with just about everything you’ve said here. Really. Now please allow me to rant:

    The more things change, the more they stay the same. Lots (if not all) of these principles go back about a hundred years. Building worthwhile relationships has always taken time & patience, no?

    Targeting & Filtered Acquisition? How long do chambers of commerce go back? Join your local business organizations (they have committees for women, men, young professionals, old professionals, straight people, gay people, etc – it’s become very targeted), volunteer with a charity that’s speaks to your heart, get involved in church groups.

    Nurturing? That used to be done (and is still done) with a follow-up note (mailed), then a phone call, then an email, now a tweet. Propagation? We don’t need social media for that, do we? That happens when the people that know and like you refer you, your product or service to their own network – in most cases face-to-face with fellow members of their business networks, fellow volunteers, church friends, etc.

    It still works. And guess what? If I’m looking for someone to do my taxes and someone in my business network (not my online network) tells me that his accountant is awesome and highly recommends him and he introduces him to me and I can look into his eyes and shake his hand – he’s probably gonna be doing my taxes. You wanna talk relevant reach?

    It seems some of us believe that “engaging” began with social media. We want to christen our so-called social media gurus with titles like “thought leader” & “change agent”. But are they really new thoughts? I don’t think so. Fortunately for them, there’s always a whole new generation of young people who never read Napoleon Hill or Jim Rohn, or popped in a Tony Robbins or Zig Ziglar cassette into their car radio on the way to work.

    “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” ~Matthew 7:15-16

    Nuff said.

  • Jschmitt

    Amber –

    You’re right. It’s about customers, people taking action that impacts the brand or the bottom line. Thanks for adding a good post to the quest for “meaningful reach” in social media.


  • http://www.rob-berman.com Rob Berman


    Well said. In LinkeIn you get an invite from someone showing an incredibly large number of contacts. You never hear from them again. They win the prize for more contacts but not for better contacts.


  • Anonymous

    Awesome post Amber…..this is a struggle for most of us , I suppose
    Get in the mode of constantly gathering to win the gold medal of “Likes” or slow it down and build relationships.
    Relationship building will always stand the test of time……..

  • http://www.hware.com Brenda Horton

    In business, the numbers ultimately need to be tied to conversions, sales, revenue, income, profits, etc., otherwise, call it a hobby.

  • Anonymous

    OK that makes a lot of sense when you think about it.


  • http://twitter.com/neerajv Neeraj Vaishnav

    Nice post. You are spot on to say that Quality matters over Quantity. However, how do you measure Quality. Unless industry does not have metrics and tools that are universally accepted, metrics like numbers of follows/impressions/fans, however inaccurate, would still be accepted as valid.

  • http://www.mikemccready.ca/blog/ Mike McCready

    I agree that followers or likers does not really mean success. We have over 1300 people that like our Facebook page, but when it comes to engagement, it seems to be the same group of people. I would look more at retweets, replies, comments and these engagement activities to be a measure of success.

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  • http://www.notfrombolton.co.uk Not From Bolton

    Absolutely, you have to focus on what is the impact of your following, what benefit does it provide you and your business. Who cares if you have 20,000 followers if you are not receiving any tangible benefit then all it represents is wasted resources and a lot of work to bring it all back on track.

  • http://www.b2bbloggers.com Jeremy Victor

    I know you don’t like short, pat on the back comments … but Amber this is some really smart thinking and a VERY critical message for B2B marketers to hear and learn.

    Well done my friend.

  • http://www.techguerilla.com/ Matt Ridings – Techguerilla

    The way I typically put it to clients is in SEO terms. Traffic is not the objective, relevant traffic is. If I optimize your website for pornography keywords, trust me, I can get you a lot of traffic. But other than paying a larger hosting bill what did it get you?

    {p.s. – you can thank me later for adding the keyword ‘pornography’ to your website!}

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  • http://www.secretsushi.com/ Adam Helweh

    Always great stuff Amber.

    I hate to use the “fishing” analogy, but it is usually the easiest to envision. Those who think casting a wide net to catch every single possible “fish” in the sea often forget the amount of resources it takes to sort, sift, and manage the “numbers”. If 20% are relevant followers then it might instinctively tell you that increasing the overall follower count would be the easiest way to proportionately grow the 20%. As the total number of followers grow, so does the actual number representing the relevant 20%. Simple math.

    Ultimately I think its better to dive into the relevant 20% and strengthen the rapport you have with them before focusing your human capital and attention back to sifting through a new huge batch of potentially unqualified leads. That 20% could turn into a very passionate group of advocates for your business if treated right.

  • Viajeroworld/ Great Wonder

    If you take the necessary steps to understand your consumers and why they are responding, you can motivate the non-responsive ones to action. One handy tool is SMXEcho (SMXEcho>/A>) which monitors all of your social media and directs you toward the general sentiment of subscribers/ customers.

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  • Anonymous

    Great post….love the emphasis on ‘relevant reach’ so important as we all have to become accustomed to influencing large numbers of people. I wrote a guest post about something similar: http://www.socialme-dia.co.uk/blog/2010/09/following-and-being-followed-is-just-the-start-of-the-relationship/

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/internetmarketingnickstamoulis Nick Stamoulis

    I always focus on gaining a relevant reach, followers who each day will wait to read your newsletter, blog post, tweets or whatever it is you are putting into the online space. Those are the followers that will take the time to comment on something you have written, or retweet/repost it. Those quality followers will help you to spread your message and your brand.

  • http://twitter.com/mizztcasa mizztcasa

    I like this: relevant reach. I’ll keep this in mind. I need to change my strategy. Just realized that I’m a ‘link feed’. Need to do more interaction.

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