Facebook Insights — What “Viral” Measures Tell Us about EdgeRank

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In my last post, I provided an update as to how to interpret the primary measures and dimensions (organic/paid/viral) that are available in the latest iteration of Facebook Insights. While digging into those dimensions, my fellow Resource Interactive analyst, Mike Amer, stumbled across some mild unpleasantries that don’t quite square with how Facebook talks about brand pages in their formal documentation.

On the one hand, Facebook would have us thinking that it’s all about virality. That’s one of the reasons they’ve made “Friends of Fans” such a prominent (if laughable) metric!

To recap, the viral reach of a page or a post is the number of unique people who were exposed to content as a result of another user generating a story (“talking about” the page or post – liking, sharing, commenting, etc.). This differs from organic reach, which is the number of unique people who visited the page or saw an item in their news feed or ticker as a direct result of the page posting the content.

Here are a couple of dirty little clarifications and secrets about virality, though:

  • The most common type of viral reach is from someone liking your page despite Facebook’s insinuations that getting people to like and comment on your page posts will tap into that ginormous “friends of fans” number…those user actions tend to go nowhere. When someone likes your page, though, that generates a story that has a meaningful viral reach (unfortunately, that is a one-time viral exposure — that same user may comment on 10 page posts over the next week and the viral reach generated from those actions will be virtually nil).
  • A page’s virality is dramatically impacted by paid media – If a Facebook Ad for the page is run and a user is exposed to the ad, then that exposure counts as 1 person towards the page’s Paid Reach. If the person clicks the Like button, Facebook will record that as a Like Source of “ads” (why they don’t have that data field name capitalized bothers my OCD, FWIW). But, a good chunk of their friends are going to get an item in their ticker that the person liked the page. All of those friends being exposed get counted as viral reach and impressions.
  • Oh…yeah…and Facebook Questions – Facebook Questions are the single type of Facebook page post that appear to drive meaningful viral reach (presumably, because the Ask friends action is more valued by Facebook than other actions such as standard likes, comments, and shares). Questions are good for that! Unfortunately, we’ve seen several cases over the last month across different pages where the Organic Reach of Facebook Questions was reported as dramatically lower than the typical reach for a status update on the page. It’s unclear whether those lower numbers reflect reality or whether they are simply a Facebook Insights glitch

All this is to say that viral reach is messy (…and don’t take what Facebook espouses at face value).

In my last post in this unofficial series, I’ll provide a list of the KPIs we’ve been gravitating towards with our clients and why.


  1. Great article, as always, Gilligan!
    Facebook was a still a great viral platform a few years ago. Farmville wouldn’t have such a success without it.
    Nowadays, its becoming harder to get something spread virally on Fb.

  2. Pingback Facebook Insights — My Favorite KPIs (as of Dec-2011) | Gilligan on Data by Tim Wilson

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  4. Very good article! and i was interested in reading about how FB values Questions. ALso, I was wondering the same about the reach of Questions as we’re getting decent virality but the reach numbers are about 25% of a normal post. Hope it’s like you say “. It’s unclear whether those lower numbers reflect reality or whether they are simply a Facebook Insights glitch”

  5. Pingback Resolved: Confused about organic vs. viral page posts #answer #programming #dev | Good Answer

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