Reach versus Impressions. What’s the Difference?

Reach Versus Impressions

Social media is everywhere and it seems to be part of our everyday routines and jobs. It’s how we communicate with each other, conduct research and stay up-to-date on the latest news. In Public Relations, social media can be a powerful tool for getting your story out there. You can increase brand awareness and drive traffic back to your client’s website. How do you measure your efforts and know how successful your social campaigns are? Reach, right? No, better look at impressions. Wait, what’s the difference in reach versus impressions – aren’t they the same thing?

Short answer is that they are different. TL; DR – Reach is the number of times humans saw a post or piece of content. Impressions is the number of times the system displayed the post or content. To complicate it further, there are two different kinds of reach – active and passive.

Passive Reach is the size of the addressable audience that a post or piece of content could get to. Total followers or fans are considered passive reach. If you’re running an influencer program this is the number that Influencers typically gets vetted on. For example, you would probably want the influencer that has two million followers instead of the influencer that only has two thousand.

Active Reach is the number of people that most likely saw the post or piece of content. This is a tough number to track down since different social platforms record this differently. This is where reach and impressions gets confusing.  Unless someone is engaging with your content it is really difficult to be sure how many people actually saw your post.

Impressions are the number of times the software that is hosting the “thing” shows it, whether a person saw it or not. For example, Twitter and Instagram will display content in their feed and call that an impression. They don’t count whether or not you actually scrolled far enough through your feed to see it for yourself. Facebook, on the other hand, is a bit more accurate. That system renders content on the fly, so chances are you saw it. Ex: When we run a syndication campaign this is the metric we’re concerned with. We say that it’s the number of “eyeballs” that saw the article. It’s like a billboard – you drive by it, but you don’t remember what it said. The billboard people consider that an “impression”.

For the bonus round: Engagement is the number of people that interacted with the “thing” (likes, shares, comments, retweets). If you have the budget to support it, influencers with high passive reach and high engagement is ideal.

The best practice for reporting is a combination of Reach (passive), Impressions, and Engagement. When you’re running an influencer program you’ll want to pay attention to all of these metrics to help ensure you’re getting quality people for your client. When posting to social media you’ll be better armed when explaining performance metrics.

The bottom line is that there are a lot of metrics you can use to demonstrate performance on social media. Your best bet is to really understand what each metric really means so you can truly shine when reporting back to your clients.

Katie Lioy
Director, Marketing Technology

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Posted on December 19, 2016 in Marketing Technology

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