Social Analytics: Breaking Down Facebook Insights

Facebook Insights frustrate me.

The Insights Overview isn’t accurate or consistent and sometimes doesn’t even work. If analytics are supposed to shed light on the performance of your content, the light shining from Facebook’s Insights tab is dim and flickering (at best).

But as life tends to go, the answer we seek is out there — it’s just harder to find. The discovery of that answer started back when Ashley and I noticed that the section for “Post Types” was no longer loading. This had happened before, so we waited. And waited. And waited. Examining the average reach of videos vs. photos vs. links is a significant metric in my analytics spreadsheet, so not being able to provide these numbers was a problem. The answer, I found, lies within the Export Data function.

At first glance, the exported data spreadsheet is overwhelming, but I’ve spent a great deal of time sifting through the hundreds of rows and columns to determine which metrics I feel are most significant and most beneficial to our team’s social media strategy. In this blog, I’ll share my own process — and reasoning — for manually calculating a specific set of metrics that help inform the #CSUSocial strategy.

Before we dive in, let’s talk about Step 1: How to export the data from Facebook. As you can see below, you’ll navigate to your Facebook Page and then select the “Insights” tab. Next, click “Export Data.” I export two files: One for “Page Data” and one for “Post Data” (the example below only depicts a Page Data export).

Note: Be sure to specify a custom Date Range when exporting your desired timeframe of data.


Before we dig in, let’s break down the difference between Reach and Impressions. A SproutSocial article very clearly discusses the difference between the two: Reach is the number of people who see your content; and Impressions refers to the number of times your content is displayed.

Reach is useful when examining the amplification of your brand’s messaging. “How many people saw our content?” Find your answer by determining reach.

In his book Contagious, Jonah Berger discusses the power of triggers (stimuli that prompt people to think about related things). According to Berger, “top of mind means tip of tongue.” This, I believe, is why impressions matter. An impression means brand exposure. The more often your audience is exposed to your content, the better chance you have of triggering your audience to take action (get a ticket for an athletics event, share a story with a friend, put an important date in their calendar) as your brand rises to the top of their mind and reaches the tip of their tongue. As tip of tongue becomes word of mouth, your brand enters the wonderful land of trustworthiness. An alarming 92% of consumers, according to Nielsen, trust recommendations from friends and family above other forms of advertising.

Post Type Average Reach

Why: We’ve learned over time that videos consistently outperform photos and links. It’s a common theme from our data. In the visual report I create each month, I like to use shapes to minimize the mental effort required to understand how each content type has performed in comparison to the others. Beyond this, we’ve also come to appreciate the importance of tracking the monthly post quantity of each type, because the success of one video may be significantly skewing the average reach for videos due to the simple fact that we post less videos than photos.

How: Open the Post Data file that you exported from Facebook. Stay on the default tab, which is called “Key Metrics.” Navigate to the D Column. Highlight the column, and click Sort & Filter from the Home Panel within Excel. Sort the column from A to Z, and you now have a column that groups together the various types of posts (e.g., links, photos, videos).

In the I Column, you will see the “Lifetime Post Total Reach” for each piece of content. Find a blank cell, and type in the following formula: =AVERAGE()

For example: With your cursor in-between the parentheses, highlight the I Column values for each Link Post, and hit Enter. The formula will calculate the average reach for your Link Posts.

For clarity, the final formula will look something like this: =AVERAGE(I3:I7). This means that Excel is calculating the average of the values in cells I3 through I7 (i.e., all of your Link Posts).

Engaged Users

Why: Compared to a vanity metric such as Follower Count, the number of Engaged Users provides a more accurate understanding of how well content is performing. This metric is described by Facebook as “The number of people who engaged with your Page. Engagement includes any click or story created.”

Note: The Excel file provides columns for the following: Daily Page Engaged Users; Weekly Page Engaged Users; & 28 Days Page Engaged Users. I choose to use 28 Days Page Engaged Users, and here’s why. I’m using this data for a monthly report. If I calculated the total of Daily Page Engaged Users, the outcome would not be a true representation of unique users who visited our Page over the span of one month. Here’s an example: If I posted a photo on Monday and 15 people in my office engaged with that photo, the Daily Page Engaged Users would be 15. If I posted another photo on Tuesday and the same thing happened, calculating the sum of those two days would equal 30 Engaged Users, which is not true if we are examining unique users (the number of unique users would still be 15, because the engagements came from the same people). For this reason, I use 28 Days Page Engaged Users, because it’s the closest representation of unique users over the span of one month. I assume Facebook uses 28 days as a base number to account for the month of February. By always examining the previous 28 days, this number is as close to accurate as can be.

How: Insights Page Data Export > Key Metrics tab > Column G > Bottom Cell [Click here for example]

Total Reach

Why: Reach is an indication of virality. The more people you reach, the more exposure your brand receives and more growth you experience. Pretty simple. This metric provides “The number of people who have seen any content associated with your Page.” A quick glance back through my spreadsheet and I’m able to pinpoint our most viral months. For example, content associated with our Page reached nearly 7 million unique users during May 2017, which is when we shared the story of Kevin Hoyt. Sure, Kevin Hoyt is a Colorado State Ram, but his story was relatable and emotional — it was human. It was a story that reached an incredible amount of people because they admired Kevin’s strength and courage, and we gained a great deal of brand exposure by way of Kevin’s story. We’re able to have a grasp on that level of exposure because of Facebook’s Insights.

Note: Again, it’s important to measure the 28 Days Total Reach.

How: Insights Page Data Export > Key Metrics Tab > Column J > Bottom Cell

Page Posts Reach

Why: I calculate this much for the same reasons as stated above. However, this metric only calculates the number of people who saw any of your Page posts (Total Reach, above, is the number of people who have seen any content associated with your Page).

How: Insights Page Data Export > Key Metrics Tab > Column AF > Bottom Cell

Viral Reach of Page Posts

As a subset of Page Posts Reach, I have recently started tracking the Viral Reach of Page Posts, which is now available via the Facebook Insights Export. This metric indicates the “number of people who saw your Page posts through a story shared by a friend (unique users).” I like to see this number because it sheds light on how we arrived at the total Page Posts Reach. For example, our August 2017 Page Posts Reach amount is 983,547 unique users. The Viral Reach of Page Posts for the same month is 878,356, which is an indication that our total reach is largely comprised of users who saw our Page posts because one of their friends interacted with our content.

How: Insights Page Data Export > Key Metrics Tab > Column AU > Bottom Cell


Above, I brought up the point that reach refers to the amount of people who are exposed to your content, and impressions refers to the number of times your content is displayed. What those numbers don’t provide, however, is whether or not people consumed your content. Facebook provides consumer metrics that demonstrate the number of unique users who clicked on any of your content. This is where you begin to understand whether your content strategy is working or not.

Average Daily Consumers

Why: On an average day, how many unique users are engaging with your Page’s content? The number may feel small in comparison to your reach and impressions, but that’s okay. These daily consumers are very powerful for your brand. They’re the ones amplifying your messages to users outside your immediate network of followers and causing your posts to be seen (see Viral Reach of Page Posts above). Each like, comment, or share, which is considered a consumption, spreads your content into the newsfeeds of users connected to your consumers.

How: Insights Page Data Export > Key Metrics Tab > Column BH > Average

Total Consumers

Why: Let me justify this metric with an example. In August 2017, 220,729 unique users consumed content from the Colorado State University Facebook Page. That’s nearly a quarter million people who were inspired to interact with CSU’s content in one form or another. Seeing that the number of people who currently follow the CSU Facebook page is 145,758, the total number of consumers is useful for determining that your content is reaching people outside your immediate network of followers.

How: Insights Page Data Export > Key Metrics Tab > Column BJ > Bottom Cell


Top of mind = Tip of tongue.

Total Post Impressions

Why: This figure calculates the total impressions for each piece of content during whatever timeframe you determine. In looking at a month’s time, I’m able to pinpoint certain months that received a significantly higher number of impressions than other months. This number indicates the amplification of the content you create.

How: Insights Post Data Export > Key Metrics Tab > Column L > SUM

Total Page Impressions

Why: This is the number of impressions seen of any content associated with your Page (not just your posts). It’s less an indicator of your content’s success and more a representation of brand exposure. How often are people being exposed to your brand on Facebook? Use this figure.

How: Insights Page Data Export > Key Metrics Tab > Column V > Bottom Cell

Viral Impressions

Why: At the end of the day, all we can do is create content and place it into the hands of the users. Viral Impressions gives you the number of impressions of a story published by a friend about your Page. This means the people you reach are actually consuming your content and increasing its number of impressions. Stories is a term used by Facebook referring to the act of liking a Page, posting to a Page’s Wall, liking or commenting on a Page’s post, RSVPing to a Page’s event, checking in at your Place, etc. Each time this happens, a user creates a “story,” and these stories appear on the Timelines of other Facebook users — ones who may not already be following your Page.

How: Insights Page Data Export > Key Metrics Tab > Column AE > Bottom Cell