How many people see your content on each digital channel?

Rob Blackie is founder of Rob Blackie Digital Strategy – a consultancy focusing the business value of digital, and how to structure for success. Rob and his teams teams have worked on everything from B2B software to soap, locally and globally from small businesses to the biggest companies in the world. You can find him on Twitter @robblackie_oo.

What reach should you expect from different channels?

Reach, shorthand for how many people see your content, is a fast-moving topic. That’s because the way people consume content is changing fast, as the latest research from Ofcom shows.

The simplicity of a world dominated by TV, radio and print has been replaced by the complex spaghetti of digital. Reaching audiences today requires understanding how, when and where people use different channels.

I consider reach as being something comparable to an email open – ie somebody has to have consciously viewed a piece of content. This is a higher bar than, say, a banner ad that might have appeared in front of someone, but not had any conscious engagement. Reach is often discussed in a siloed way; rarely is it compared across different channels, which is unhelpful to marketers trying to put a multi-channel campaign together.

So I’ve consulted industry experts to establish rough benchmarks for different channels:

Email: MailChimp benchmarks indicate 21% of marketing emails are opened on average(this is of course a slight underestimate because some email clients block images and therefore stop email tracking from working). And well-written emails can have dramatically higher open rates. For instance, Azeem Azhar who writes the Exponential View, a highly regarded industry newsletter, reports open rates of 45-50% and click rates of over 25%.

SMS: this is a neglected channel given that it triggers notifications on the smartphone lock screen and has very high reach. Open rates can’t be tracked in the same way as email, however SMS provider Dynmark’s figures of 98% open rates are credible.

Messenger bots: while in their infancy, Messenger bots seem to have reach and engagement rates comparable to apps, of around 50%. It’s reasonable to assume that WhatsApp has high engagement too.

Facebook: when somebody opens Facebook, on average they could be served 1,500 pieces of content. But there’s only time to display 300 each day (ie 20%). Which ones they see depends on a number of factors, and is determined by Facebook’s algorithm.

If you prompt your Facebook fans to write original content about you, such as a review, this can get reach comparable to other personal content. But otherwise, Facebook’s distribution of content is less generous for brands. Ogilvy's Facebook Zero research in 2014 found organic reach was below 2%, but we’ve seen further falls since then.

Cathy Ma, audience development director of Bauer Xcel USA, points out that Facebook reach can soar with the right content. Niche audiences can be particularly powerful too – Ma cites an obituary for a much loved golfer.

Twitter: has recently introduced its own algorithm to serve people more relevant content. One of the industry’s most thoughtful analysts of social data, Mat Morrison, has suggested a 5% median reach on Twitter.

Among clients I’ve worked with, Twitter accounts achieve a reach of 10-18%. Comparing the time spent by Twitter users with the number of tweets they will see on a typical day indicates that this range is credible.

YouTube: Forrester indicates that below 10% of subscribers will watch any given YouTube video. A benchmark echoed by this analysis of YouTube stars by Mat Morrison.

App notifications: most notifications are seen, unless they are crowded off the home screen. Apptentive reports over 40% engagement on average. Urban Airship reports engagement rates of 8% for Apple devices, and 20% for Android.

Snapchat: metrics have developed very quickly over the last year. Analysis from Snaplytics indicates an average 55% open rate when accounts' followers have the option to view a brand’s story. Snaplytics also reports an 87% completion rate; in other words people viewing the whole of a brand’s story. Doubtless these high figures reflect less competition for attention on Snapchat, as well as high usage amount Snapchat users.

Five recommendations for reaching customers

Firstly, no channel gets you anywhere close to universal reach. It’s rare to get to even half of your followers. Yet it’s common for brands to use a single channel for each piece of content. In the real world, where social networks and email providers filter heavily, this means many messages are simply missed.

It makes sense for brands to repeat their messages. And to post them in several different channels. For instance, consumers who both opened an email and saw an associated Facebook advert were 22% more likely to purchase, with reach 77% higher.

Secondly, even if you have a working email address for a customer, there’s value in persuading them to opt in to a complementary social channel, such as Facebook Messenger.

Thirdly, every channel has challenges of filtering now. If Gmail strengthened its filter tomorrow, it would dramatically cut email reach. Keep up to date with changing benchmarks, and future-proof your organisation through multi-channel strategies.

Fourthly, bear in mind that reach is dependent on the quality of your followers or subscribers, not just the quality of your content. If people followed your brand a long time ago; if you bought your email list; if you’re using channels like Twitter, where in all probability a lot of your followers aren’t on it any more; you’ll see lower interaction rates than the benchmarks I’ve suggested.

And finally, if any of these benchmarks leave you feeling pessimistic about the potential of digital to reach your audiences, remember that traditional advertising was far less able to prove its reach, even in the heyday of television. The joy of digital’s analytics is that at least we know now how much content is seen, rather than taking a wild guess. Although metrics are evolving, we are increasingly able to know and benchmark the reach, and therefore the value, of marketing through social channels.

Rob Blackie is founder of Rob Blackie Digital Strategy. He tweets @robblackie_oo

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