From emojis to abbreviations, social media marketing has a language of its own. Understanding comes with experience, but there are some terms that still seem to confuse everyone—even the most fluent of marketers.
If you’ve spent any time working on a social media campaign, “reach” and “impressions” are two terms you’ve undoubtedly come across. Also, many people still feel a little unsure about these terms in regards to social media engagement. They’re commonly used when referring to analytics, but they also pop up in a lot of marketing conversations around strategy.
Terms like “reach” and “impressions” are often misinterpreted or thought of as to mean the same thing. While it’s very easy to group the two together, they do have their own definitions. So before you can accurately measure either metric, you need to understand what they mean. Here’s a crash course in reach vs. impressions.
Reach vs. Impressions
Reach: The number of people who see your content.
Reach is a measure of how your content is spread across various social media platforms. You can think of it as the number of unique people who see your content. In a perfect world, every one of your followers will see every piece of content you post.
Unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in and not all of your fans will see every single post you publish. So reach is a measurement of your effective audience.
Impression: The number of times your content is displayed.
An impression means that content was delivered to someone’s feed. A viewer doesn’t have to engage with the post in order for it to count as an impression. What’s tricky about impressions is that one person can have multiple impressions of the same piece of content.
For example, on Facebook a post can be displayed in the News Feed from the original publisher and appear a second time when a friend shares the publisher’s post. If you saw both forms of activity in your feed, that counts as two impressions for the same post.
Digging Deeper into Reach & Impressions
As you can see, reach and impressions are very similar. Let’s go back to that perfect world for a minute. Let’s say that you have 100 followers on Twitter and you send out one Tweet. If every one of your followers sees that Tweet, you have a reach of 100 and 100 impressions.
Tomorrow you send out two Tweets to the same 100 followers. Your reach is still 100 (because your follower count didn’t change) but now your impressions have increased to 200. Why? Because every single one of your 100 followers has seen both of the Tweets you published.
It can be a challenging concept, but it’s important when tracking the success of a social media campaign. If you recall nothing else about reach and impressions, remember this: Reach is the number of people who may have seen your content, while impressions are the total number of times the people you’ve reached may have seen your content.
It’s Not Always That Easy
We know. That wasn’t really easy. But there’s a little more to it than that. To make matters more confusing, there are different kinds of reach and impressions on different social networks—Facebook to be specific. Other platforms may include reach and impressions in their social media analytics, but they’re pretty standard. Facebook has varying levels of each.
On Facebook, reach falls into three different categories:
- Organic: This represents the number of unique people who saw your content—for free—in News Feed by posting to your Page.
- Paid: This is the number of unique people who saw your paid content, such as a Facebook Ad.
- Viral: This is the number of unique people who saw your post or Page mentioned in a story published by a friend. These stories include actions such as Liking, sharing or commenting.
There are a number of factors that play into your Facebook reach, and depending on which type of reach you’re looking to grow, you might follow different strategies. To learn more about Facebook reach, read our earlier article How to Easily Increase Your Facebook Reach.
Just like reach, Facebook impressions are also broken down into three categories, which can be viewed in Sprout’s Facebook Pages report:
- Organic: This represents the number of times your content was displayed—for free—in News Feed or on your Page.
- Paid: This is the number of times your paid content—such as a Facebook Ad—was displayed.
- Viral: This is the number of times content associated with your Page was displayed in a story published by a friend. These stories include Liking, sharing or commenting.
Facebook Ad Reach vs Impressions
Having the same categoric breakdowns certainly doesn’t keep reach and impressions separate. But just remember our perfect world example. If five Facebook fans each saw your post twice, the result would be 10 impressions (the number of times displayed multiplied by the number of unique people who saw it) and a reach of five (the unique people who saw it).
Now here’s where it can get extra complicated. If you’re using Facebook Ads, there are two additional types of impressions to track: served and viewed.
When a Facebook Ad is served, it means that the publisher told the system to deliver an ad. As long as the system registers delivery of that ad, it’s counted as a success—a served impression. This is a little sneaky because it’s counting a success regardless of whether an ad is seen.
Served impressions include ads that no one sees because they appear below the fold or because the person left the page before it could finish rendering. It’s inaccurate and leaves a big gap between the number of ads served and the number that are actually seen.
Viewed impressions, however, are counted from the moment the ad enters the screen of a desktop browser or mobile app. If it doesn’t enter the screen, it doesn’t count.
The native Twitter app doesn’t measure your reach, but it does track impressions. Twitter defines impressions as anytime a Twitter user sees your Tweet.
Think of an impression as a Tweet that shows up on someone’s monitor or mobile screen. But the number of impressions you see inside the Twitter app only counts the number of times your Tweets show up in a user’s feed or search results.
While Twitter doesn’t provide data on reach, there is a workaround. With Sprout Social’s Sent Messages Report, you can gain effective data on your social media reach.
Reach, Impressions & Your Strategy
Now that you have a better understanding of reach vs. impressions, let’s look beyond their definitions and see what they mean for your marketing strategy.
Know Your Target Audience
As reach increases, it naturally leads to increased awareness. For businesses it’s important to extend your reach to as many consumers as possible. But even if you’re reaching 10,000 people, it won’t mean a thing if only 1,000 of them are actually interested in your brand.
Sent messages lose effect and no value is gained when they’re ignored. Design messages and your content strategy with your target audience in mind.
Also keep an eye on the content that’s being shared, Retweeted, liked or replied to. By tracking these engagements, it’ll help you find potential users to target, thus extending your reach.
Monitor & Analyze Regularly
Impressions measure your ability to get your content in front of your intended audience. When your impressions are on the rise, it means your content is making it into the feeds of users more frequently.
This usually means that your posts are optimized for whichever social network you’re on. If you’re not seeing impressions in the range you hoped for, first look at how you’re sharing your content. Is it optimized for the platform you’re using?
Another tip to consider when trying to increase impressions is to focus on growing the number of actively engaged fans in your community for that platform. Place more emphasis on publishing shareable content. As your community begins sharing your posts with their networks, your impressions (and reach) will increase.
The only way you’ll know if your efforts are working are to monitor and analyze these metrics regularly. Constantly make improvements and experiment with changes, and then follow it up with more monitoring. With Sprout, social media monitoring is made simple.
Avoid the back and forth between networks and streamline your social media through an all-in-one Smart Inbox. Tracking important metrics can be tricky, but not with the right tools.
Looking at the Bigger Picture
Reach vs. impressions can be a little convoluted, but not impossible to understand. Once you’re able to distinguish the two metrics, you can begin working toward the most important one of all: social media engagement. A common goal behind every social media campaign is increased engagement. If your content isn’t getting likes, replies or shares, something is wrong—either on the creation or targeting end.
Awareness comes before engagement, and reach and impressions drive people to take action. You can’t have one without the other, and you can’t improve one without also tweaking the others. So when you’re thinking about how to increase engagement, do so while also considering how reach and impressions play into it.
Jennifer Beese: Jennifer Beese has worked as a community manager and social media strategist. When she’s not writing, you can find her studying anatomy and physiology—she literally has a skeleton in her closet—or under the stars with her telescope.