Quick note: I realize that overwhelming sentiment is that the latest signs of a drop in Reach is proof that Facebook is putting a squeeze on small businesses. Facebook needs to monetize, so this provides proof that there’s a conspiracy to force us to pay for advertising. I know that it’s not popular to suggest that we investigate fully prior to making that determination. For some, it’s like holding out on whether water is wet or the Green Bay Packers are the greatest football franchise of all time. Some things are just common sense.
But I’m stubborn. I can’t help but be annoyed by the angry mobs that are forming based on incomplete information. I’ve seen far too many inconsistencies and none of the articles on the subject satisfy me. I’ve spent hours upon hours trying to get to the bottom of this.
What you are about to read is what I’ve found so far. But this is not my final say. I need more info, and you can help!
I previously wrote about a problem in Facebook Insights concerning Viral Reach. The numbers just didn’t add up.
The more I look into Facebook Insights, the more problems I find.
There are so many inconsistencies that it’s often difficult to make sense of it. In order to determine what is flawed, you first need to establish an accurate baseline. And that baseline has been a needle in the Insights haystack.
But one thing I discovered is an enormous difference in Viral Reach when viewing Page Level Data as opposed to Post Level Data.
It’s this difference that could very well be the source of the uproar around a drop in Reach. Which set of data is correct?
The answer could ultimately determine whether there is actual reason to be concerned or if the harm we’re all reporting is more “perceived” than “actual.”
The Post Level Data Problems
You’ll recall that I previously noted some very bizarre changes in the ratio of Talking About This/Viral Reach. This was found in the Post Level Data:
|Metric||6/10 – 8/27||8/29 – 9/9|
|Talking About This/Viral Reach||14.3%||87.5%|
This means that from 6/10 – 8/27, it took about 14 people “talking about” your content to reach 100 of their friends. From 8/28 – 9/9, it took nearly 88 people “talking about” your content to reach 100 friends (or nearly a 1:1 ratio).
Makes no sense, right? How is it possible that an average of only one friend of a typical Fan sees interaction with your Page?
Page Level Data: All is Well
Well, here’s the ratio when looking at that same range of 6/10 – 8/27 when using Page Level Data:
This makes a whole lot more sense, doesn’t it? Your Fans have a bunch of friends. It takes only 3 of them to “talk about” your content and reach 100 people.
And when I look at approximate one-month periods dating back to January, this percentage has always been rather low:
|Date Range||Talking About This/Viral Reach|
|1/21 – 2/21||6.6%|
|2/22 – 3/22||6.8%|
|3/23 – 4/23||4.2%|
|4/24 – 5/24||3.7%|
|5/25 – 6/25||4.3%|
|6/26 – 7/26||3.8%|
|7/27 – 8/27||2.0%|
|8/28 – 9/28||3.7%|
Keep in mind, the lower the better. According to this, my ability to reach friends of Fans through Fan interaction has actually become more efficient as the year has progressed.
This, of course, is in stark contrast with what we’ve been hearing — and what I previously reported.
According to Page Level Data, my Organic Reach has also been steadily increasing throughout the year before taking a very minor dip after that odd spike from 7/27 – 8/27.
|Date Range||Organic Reach|
|1/21 – 2/21||567|
|2/22 – 3/22||678|
|3/23 – 4/23||820|
|4/24 – 5/24||912|
|5/25 – 6/25||992|
|6/26 – 7/26||1147|
|7/27 – 8/27||1894|
|8/28 – 9/28||1662|
In fact, all of my important data — Talking About This, Stories and Engaged Users, to name a few — continue an upward trend.
So when I look at my Page Level Data, I’m really not noticing any problems at all. Did Organic Reach drop on 8/28? Sure, but only after a ridiculous month before it.
The Source of Panic
The reason people are freaking out is pretty simple. They are focusing on data in two main places:
- Post Level Data on the post itself (X People Saw This Post); and
- Post Level Data in the web version of Insights.
And even I used a Post Level Data export when I made my initial analysis. As I noted above, Page Level Data shows no such problems. Everything is chugging along nicely.
So, what if the Post Level Data that the majority of Page admins use is actually flawed? What if in each case, a different story could be read based on Page Level Data?
No one can be sure exactly which set of data is correct because Facebook doesn’t like to explain these things. But since I continue to see growth across the board in Engagement, Talking About This, Consumers and Consumption in both sets of data, I’m prone to think that the Post Level Data is “most flawed.”
Talk of an Algorithm Change
Now, I know you’re just salivating right now, waiting to scream at me about the whispers surrounding an EdgeRank algorithm change. Even though none of the mainstream sources have mentioned it, I’ve heard enough rumors that it’s at least possible.
But this is a completely different discussion. The problem that I and many others noticed started on 8/28. The algorithm change, if it happened, didn’t start until 9/20 (or at least, that’s how it’s being reported).
If such a change did occur, we’ll have to wait and see what impact it will make. But it has nothing — or very little — to do with this discussion.
Other Negative Reports
Reports I have seen about a drop in Reach seem to fall into three camps:
- People who only speak of Reach in general without digging further;
- People, like me, who have noted inconsistencies with Viral Reach; and
- People who note an impact to other engagement.
Keep in mind that the first group far outnumbers the other two. It’s actually more than a little frustrating that so few people are willing to look deeper into their stats.
I have heard from some people indicating they’ve been negatively impacted by Talking About This or other engagement metrics. But the number is so small that it could also be a completely natural phenomenon.
Every month, some of us do well. Some of us do poorly. Some of us stay the same. So many factors apply. Sample size is important.
In the end, I can only rely on my research. My results are only as good as the sample size and accuracy of the data.
Based on what I’ve found, I have strong suspicions that there have been no major changes to “actual” Reach on average. It seems quite possible that the harm that many are noticing may actually be due to an error in reporting.
But there still isn’t enough data available to make a definitive statement one way or the other.
How About You?
Do me a favor and pull a Page Level Export of your Facebook Insights. Go back several months, all the way back to 1/1 if you want. But, please: Provide specific Page Level data facts to back up your claims.
Look closely: Do you still notice that Reach is down? Are other metrics down as well?
Share your results in the comments below!