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The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Facebook Reach

James Parsons • Updated on March 1, 2022
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The Guide to Facebook Reach

Reach on Facebook comes in three forms; organic, paid and viral. Understanding what these mean and how they are calculated will help you fine-tune your marketing for maximum post efficiency.

A Beginner’s Guide

If all you want is a basic overview of what reach means, read this section. If you already know generally what they mean and want more detailed information, skip ahead.

Organic reach is a calculation of the number of people who see your post when you make it. When you load a Facebook news feed, the script that loads content will pull 6-10 posts and display them for the user. The user can then scroll down and see them, and if they reach the end, Facebook will load another batch. It’s important to note that when Facebook loads the post, it counts as being displayed to that user, even if that user didn’t scroll down to see it.

Organic reach is defined as the number of people who have the post displayed for them normally. You post it, people see it, end of calculation. This is the baseline percentage of your audience that sees your posts. Organic reach has been on the decline over the last few years, causing some marketers to turn elsewhere and others to double down on paid reach.

Facebook claims that this decline in reach is a natural consequence of their improved algorithms. They say your posts are too promotional, and that users don’t want to see them as often as posts from their friends, so your posts aren’t displayed as frequently as before. Conspiracy theorists posit that it’s not just a coincidence that this excuse rolls around when Facebook is promoting new ways to pay for more reach. Organic – free – reach goes down, paid reach is available, Facebook makes more money from marketers looking to reach the same portion of their audience they’re used to reaching.

Paid reach is the second type of reach. When you use the boost post button, when you promote a post or when your posts are the landing target of Facebook ads, you are paying for more exposure to your posts. Paid reach is the measurement of the number of people who see your post directly because of your investment. You paid to promote a post, and people saw it; that number is your paid reach.

The third type of reach, viral reach, is a measurement of the number of people who indirectly see your post. Instead of me seeing a post made by Amazon’s Facebook page, I see a post from Amazon’s page shared by my friend David. It’s reach that comes from shares, from likes and from other means of indirect promotion. Essentially, the second degree of separation from your page and beyond is considered viral reach. If Amazon posts a page, which is shared by Bobby, which is in turn shared by Steve, which is in turn shared by Linda, which is in turn shared by David, which I then see, my view – and all views except Bobby’s direct view – counts as viral reach.

Digging Deeper

When you pull your Facebook Insights data, you’ll see some interesting numbers. Examining them can give you a deeper understanding of your reach.

Every post has a “lifetime reach” number associated with it. This is the total number of people who have seen the post, from the time you post it to the time you pull the data. Technically, this number is always increasing. The reason these taper off after a while is Facebook’s natural time decay. After a post is a few weeks old, very few people will continue to see it unless it’s incredibly viral. This means the lifetime reach is essentially static.

Facebook will also tell you where a user saw a given post. It can be on the news feed, on the ticker, on a page timeline, shared by others, on other timelines, as direct links, as sidebars if the post is an ad, and various combinations of each of these. As you can guess, from the combination of methods of viewing a post, this is a total combination of all three types of reach explained above.

Lifetime Organic reach is a smaller number, also assigned to each and every post. This is specifically a measurement of the number of people who saw your post in their newsfeed, on your timeline, or through a second-degree share such as a friend or another page’s share. Yes, Facebook totals up both organic and viral reach here, to create an easy dichotomy between organic and paid reach.

Lifetime Paid reach is the other half of the number. Everyone who sees your post because of a paid action you took, including boosting, promoting or advertising a post, is measured as a paid impression. It’s worth it to note that paying to promote a post can actually decrease the number of people who see your post organically, because Facebook does not track this number specifically. Instead, Facebook calculates organic reach by taking total reach and subtracting paid reach. If a user saw your post both organically and as a sponsored post, only the sponsored view will count, even though they saw it organically.

Increasing Reach

So how can you make use of this knowledge to increase your post reach? Here are a few tips.

  • Include more multimedia. Images and videos receive more engagement than pure text posts, even if the image is the preview of a link. More engagement means more visibility in viral reach, boosting organic reach.
  • Post at the right times. Facebook loads posts in batches, and you want to time your posts so they are in the first batch or two of posts a user sees when they log on. This means right in the peak of your audience’s active hours. The precise times will vary, so measure them yourself through Insights.
  • Post frequently. Timely content in volume is better than evergreen content on Facebook. No one goes back to refer to a Facebook post made a week ago, let alone months back.
  • Minimize advertising language. Mike Gingerich, co-founder of TabSite, recommends a 10-4-1 ratio. Ten posts that are fun, entertaining and helpful, four posts that are brand-related, and one sales pitch, in a given week. Curated content helps with this.
  • Don’t worry about lowering your organic reach by paying to promote your posts; the promoted reach can drastically outweigh the minor loss in organic reach.

In general, post frequently, engage with your users and avoid promotional language. As marketers, it’s hard to make posts promoting other people’s content, but it’s really the way to win the hearts of your users.


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