Reach vs. Impressions. What’s the Difference and What to Measure on Social

Social media is everywhere. It’s 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. And it’s certainly a key channel for brand communications; a powerful tool for getting your story out.

Many brands invest time and money to develop content, assets and messages for social media in an effort to increase brand awareness and drive traffic back to your website. How do you measure your efforts and know how successful your social campaigns are? Reach? 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:

  • 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. This may be the most important measurement of all, as it shows what you’re doing is driving a (hopefully) intended action.

The best practice for reporting on social media programs 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.

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 benchmark progress against goals and efforts, and understand what strategies and content is contributing most.

Keep in Touch

Want fresh perspective on communications trends & strategy? Sign up for the SHIFT/ahead newsletter.

Ready to shift ahead?

Let's talk