Reach Matters – Even In Social Media

“It doesn’t matter how many people you reach; it’s who you reach that matters.”

We hear this kind of statement thrown about all the time in social media circles. The idea is that you don’t need to have a massive following to have influencer or get results. Following closely behind we usually hear something like “if you have three readers and they’re Barack Obama, Gordon Brown and Donald Trump, you don’t need anyone else.”

Who are we kidding?

I’m in contrarian mode here, and I’m calling BS. While that kind of reasoning manages to be true to some extent, in practice, in most cases it’s completely false.

True, because it’s theoretically possible that you could have a tiny niche that keeps you in business and powers growth.

False, because in the vast majority of cases that’s just not going to happen (note: I’m talking proactive public relations here, not stakeholder or government relations). Most of us aren’t selling multi-million dollar solutions to a small group of buyers. The theory is sound, but in reality it usually doesn’t work that way.

Trust matters; so do numbers

It’s a harsh truth. It’s comforting to pat ourselves on the back and tell ourselves that we’re influential. Think about it, though – would TechCrunch be influential without its audience? Would Brogan? Of course, their success didn’t come overnight and they didn’t always have those audiences.  It’s not easy to admit but for most communicators, reach (or audience size) does matter.

  1. In order to get the attention of influencers, you often need a critical mass behind you;
  2. Separate and in parallel to that, the law of averages implies that, over time, the more people you reach the more influential people you will reach.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at your average web traffic then compare it to the last time you got a big mainstream media hit. It’s why I, despite being a social media convert, still argue strongly that mainstream media matters.

The flip side

There is truth to the idea that connecting with influential people can get results.

Right now, I’m in the middle of reading Trust Agents, which revolves around trust and influence. I certainly agree that a person with a highly engaged group of followers on Twitter, for example, will get much better interactions and results than someone who has gamed the system to build a large following.

Still, even within the book the authors admit that Chris Brogan’s reach means that his voice can achieve greater results than those without such an audience. There’s also a bit of a chicken/egg situation – do numbers lead to influence or vice versa?

YMMV

Of course, a well-crafted communications strategy considers the unique goals of an organization/person before deciding on the approach, meaning  a one-size-fits-all answer to this kind of issue doesn’t really apply. However, most of the conversations to which I’m referring here are based around simple audience metrics – blog readers; Twitter followers.

The rose-tinted glasses situation: a focused, targeted audience of highly engaged and influential people could potentially drive results.

The reality: reach matters.

The ideal solution is probably a trade-off between niche and mass.

What do you think?

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  • I have to disagree Dave and stick with “it’s who you reach that matters.” Obama, Brown and Trump may just NOT be the three people that matter to your particular goals.

    If I’m looking to sell video games, then … no. Those three, for all their respective influence and power do not have the specific influence I need for this specific goal. Give me a connection with Will Wheaton, Felicia Day, the fellas at Penny Arcade, the top writers at Joystiq and similar blogs and we will see results. They may not have the same reach as Oprah, The View and the 700 Club… but I bet I’ll be far more successful.

    Reach matters only if you’re reaching someone who will help you reach your goals.

    • Rob – I agree. The question is, how do you decide that those people are influential? It likely comes down to their reach. Targeted reach for sure, but still. Perhaps it’s artificial to draw a solid line between the two – perhaps, in reality, influence begets reach; reach begets influence.

      I’ll never argue against targeting influencers. However, to BE an influencer, I think you increasingly need reach within your niche.

      • How to decide who is influential within a niche?

        Well – reach does play a significant part. But you need to look within that niche to see the role that person plays within the niche. There are people who we follow because they are saying important things, provoking great thoughts and inspiring wonderful things … and then there are those that we follow because we can count on them to make a fart joke.

        What is the quality of the message? How passionate are they? How inspired are their readers? Those, in combination with reach tell me who I want to target with a message.

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  • Reach is important even within a niche. I think that it’s easy with social media to fall back and talk about quality instead of quantity when you can’t move the needle. But even in my niche, I see a difference in metrics (say, webinar or user group signups) when it just gets seen by our core set of readers, when they start talking about it on their blogs, or when it gets picked up by the trade press. Reach matters, even within a niche.

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  • Trust begets influence. Once you earn trust from a person or group, reach will follow. It starts with trust and it must be continuously earned, otherwise your reach will dwindle.

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  • Good post Dave, I wrote about this a long while back http://www.michaelgcohen.com/2008/12/followers-are-not-the-same-as-having-reach/ and while I stand by that post I think that one of the things Twitter lists are showing is that while following tons of people gets you tons of followers, wading through the crap is not worthwhile.

    Lists give people a way to still get all the noise of the full feed while segmenting down to those they care about. It is in how many of those lists (the ones people care about) that a person shows up that I would argue is the real value or “reach” that one has.

    Keep up the good work