Are impressions a valid PR metric? After all, along with share of voice, they’re one of the most popularly used metrics to measure the reach of earned media and public relations. The short answer is: maybe. Here’s why. There are two kinds of impressions: passive and active. When you’re driving down a highway and you pass a billboard, that’s an impression, but it’s a passive one. You may or may not have even seen it or read it, but it was there when you drove by, and thus it’s counted in media metrics as an impression. Most of the media impressions these days are passive. An article can appear on the front page of a newspaper or on the publisher’s home page and you might never read more than the headline. That’s still an impression, and still a passive one.

Active impressions are impressions in which there is confirmation that the reader got to and through the content. For example, on this blog, we track to see how far down the page you’ve read using Google Analytics:

Scroll Depth by robflaherty

If you get to the bottom, then we’ve made an active impression on you. After all, if you’re not interested, chances are you won’t bother to reach the bottom of the page. That active impression is what impressions are supposed to be about: even if you don’t fill out a contact form, we’ve made an impression on the people who read 100% of the page, and that’s an active impression.

Active impressions can be recorded for any form of digital media. Here’s how many people made it through a YouTube video, for example:

Analytics - YouTube

The most accurate count of “impressions” would be the 30% of people who made it through all 5 minutes because they watched the whole thing, the active watchers.

The reason why impressions are most often discounted as an effective PR metric is because no one knows whether a media outlet’s impressions are active or passive. When a major publisher shows you views of the article, is that page views count overall or number of people who reached the bottom of the page? Knowing which is which is vital if you’re going to use impressions in your analysis of how PR is going.

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