Facebook Reach – Reliable Metric or Capitalist Scam?

I have always been quick to defend Facebook when people ask why the average fan page post only gets seen by 17% of fans. It makes sense that, given the amount of content being simultaneously produced and the amount of people you follow and/or are friends with, that Facebook can’t show you everything. Even when Promoted Posts were rolled out, I gave Facebook the benefit of the doubt: For a small fee, they’ll game their own system for you and make your post a little more “sticky” so that it gets shown to more than your average number of people. Capitalism at its finest. Except that recently, my rosy view of Facebook received a rude awakening…


As the community manager for a national non-profit, our Facebook following is currently around 20,000. Recently, about two weeks apart, I posted two different pieces of content (among many others, but these two are of particular interest):

  • A new feature of our website launched on July 12; this post was promoted.
  • We took a stand on a controversial issue by posting a photo along with many other non-profits on July 27; this post was not promoted.

The Results

More than 15,000 saw our best post, which was promoted through Facebook.

The results for the website launch were great. Our page received 10x its normal traffic and the money we spent allowed us to receive more than 10,000 additional impressions (see right). The numbers I’d like to focus on here are the Organic and Viral reach which, according to Facebook, are independent of the Paid reach In fact,”15,598 saw this post” does not even take into account Paid reach. With 68 shares and 197 likes, this post received more than 7,000 so-called Viral impressions. Keep that number in mind.


Despite more than 500 shares, the Viral reach didn’t top 3,000 impressions.

The numbers for the photo were also great, depending on what metrics you use. As you can see, we received over 500 shares and 350 likes– but wait a minute. What is going on with the reach? Despite the fact that this post received 8x as many Shares (usually considered the most viral action) and 1.5x as many likes, this post’s Viral reach was almost 1/3 that of the previous example. Let’s consider some math for a moment:

  • The average Facebook fan has 245 fans
  • 500 shares x 245 fans = 122,500 potential impressions
  • 2,457 Viral impressions/ 122,500 potential impressions = 2.0%

So based on this estimate, only 2% of the people that could have seen this post actually saw it? And to make matters worse, Facebook’s “virality” metric acknowledges the fact that this second post has way more viral potential (more than 10x as much) than the promotion of our website:


And despite this fact, the Viral reach was still only 1/3 as high. Furthermore, if EdgeRank worked the way it supposedly does, shouldn’t the Organic reach on a post with 16x as much “virality” be higher than one that is being paid to promote?

The unfortunate thing for you, the readers, is that I don’t actually have an answer for any of this. All I know is that my opinion of EdgeRank and Promoted Posts and the way Facebook handles content has changed dramatically over the last two weeks and I’m hoping someone has a good answer for any of this.

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Showing 2 comments
  • Chad Wittman

    Correct me if I’m wrong. I feel that the overarching issue you are driving at is the disparity between Shares and Viral Reach for your two pieces of content and how Promoted Posts may have impacted these results.

    In most cases, it’s acceptable to compare two posts against each other. However, there maybe an issue with the fact that the non-Promoted Post was posted along with “with many other non-profits”. As you stated, the Post was Shared over 500 times, which was 8x more than the Promoted Post. I’m concerned that the Post that was shared over 500 times, was also Shared excessively among the many other non-profits.

    If this is the case, the News Feed may have aggregated the Post into topic related groupings within Fans’ News Feeds, which would have drastically decreased Viral Impression opportunities.

    Ultimately, I will end this with a question. How wide spread was this non-profit post? Approximately how many non-profits also posted this piece of content? Was this piece of content published as an original or Shared off another Page?

    • Ezra

      Hi Chad,

      Thanks for reading and for your comments. My overarching issue is two-fold: the first, you correctly identified, is the disconnect between Shares and Viral Reach; the second is the disconnect between Virality and Organic Reach. If Facebook agrees that a piece is attracting a lot of viral attention, shouldn’t it show the post to more of my fans organically? And why would the less viral piece have a higher Organic reach if that number, allegedly, has nothing to to with my promotion (as evidenced by the fact that Paid reach is calculated and displayed separately).

      The point you made about aggregating into related groupings is valid, though I could never know for sure what the other organizations’ reaches look like. I would estimate that the content was shared by about 15-20 other non-profits, most of whom are significantly smaller than mine (probably in the 1,000-5,000 range). The content was published as original and not shared from another page.

      Thanks again for participating in this conversation, I really appreciate your input.