Posted July 20, 2012 8:12 am by with 0 comments

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Recently, you might have noticed a pop-up when visiting your Facebook Insights page informing you of some changes to the way their reach figures are calculated.

“Fair enough,” you probably thought, “They’ve got a burgeoning user base and spammers, scammers, and a whole other lot of potential confounding variables to weed out.” If you clicked though, you found that the change was something much more breathtaking.

As of July 3nd, Facebook’s reach metric will include both mobile views and will now only count a ‘reach’ if a user scrolls down and loads a Page’s story. Take a second, let that sink in. Maybe read it one more time.

If you’re anything like me, your first thought is “WHAT?” Until this point, Facebook has never made it exactly clear how they measure their reach score – it was always implied that each ‘reach’ point was a fan that had been exposed to your story at least once, just like the advertising parallel. However, according to the update, they apparently were counting reach as users who may or may not have seen your story, and were outright ignoring mobile exposures. In fact, they don’t even really explain the first point regarding the scrolling and loading of stories at all. How were they accounting for them previously? Is this an addition or a revision of their metric? They never spell it out.

The other announced change was the inclusion of mobile views into the reach metric. This was a jaw-dropper for me. Over 500 million members of their user base access the service via mobile device, well over half their accounts. You mean to tell me that this entire time those views were unaccounted for in the reach figure? And Facebook never once thought to mention it? It’s like that moment in 1984 when Big Brother announces an ‘increase’ in chocolate rations from 5 pounds to 3 pounds.

This is a pretty big disappointment for social marketers everywhere. Without reliable metrics, we can’t make informed and strategic decisions. Between this and the many other changes Facebook has made over the past few months, historical data is now completely worthless. Besides all that, how can we put any trust in Facebook when they’re not extending us the same courtesy? We need more clear and open understandings of their metrics and how they calculate them. Reach can be an important metric for a page administrator who is looking to understand the impact of a post.

What do you think of Facebook’s mobile reach gaffe? Is the metric useless, or the most important value for social strategy decision making?

Dan Wilkerson is a social media project manager at LunaMetrics, a Google Analytics certified partner that also specializes in social media, search engine optimization, and PPC. You can follow him on Twitter @notdanwilkerson or at @LunaMetrics.