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?

Dave Fleet
EVP Digital at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.