What are Social Media Impressions and Should I Care About Them?

footprints IMPRESSION blog image


If you’re the one on your team tasked with posting social media content (or the one having to justify the expense of a social media expert), you’ve may have wondered how to measure how well it’s going.

Of course you know that “engagement” is your goal. Comments are a good sign (especially if they’re good comments). Likes, loves, thumbs ups and follows can be meaningful too. And sharing is the ultimate response. Any time anyone engages with you is a positive thing – or is it?

Read our Social Media Playbook for a comprehensive guide to most platforms.

The Betty White Spoof

A while back, a satirical article entitled Betty White 92 Dyes Peacefully in Her Los Angeles Home went viral. People were sharing the article at a crazy rate, commenting on their sadness at the “passing” of the beloved actress. The English majors among us did a double-take on the title and bothered to read the humorous article (which turned out to be about her dying her own hair, rather than going to a salon.)  It was a lesson to me, at least, that shares and likes feel good but don’t necessarily mean people are reading your content.

The good news is that this does count as engagement! However, it’s worth asking whether impressions, views, or even engagement help your organization’s bottom line – and is it worth the considerable amount of effort it takes?

Think Bigger: The Purpose of Social Media

To understand the importance of reach and impressions, you need to understand that the initial purpose of social media is to raise awareness of your brand, which means catching and keeping the attention of as many people as possible. The ultimate purpose of social media, however is that your social media content will make such an impression that people will eventually buy from you and tell others about you.

The length of time and the possibly winding path from a first notice of you on social media to a financial connection (commonly known as CPI, or conversion per impression) can be difficult to trace. People may not even realize that the first time they heard of you was on Facebook three years ago when you posted a heartwarming story about a foster child who overcame her shyness in a program like yours or an article showing the data behind how exercise reshapes your brain.

But when they’re ready to buy what you offer, your interesting ad or discount on a social post is more likely to catch their attention if they’ve seen your organization’s name before, engaged with your content (liked it), or can see that their friends are engaging with you.

Keeping an Eye on Reach and Impressions

If engagement is our most visible response measurement, what’s the value of reach and impressions?

Christopher Penn, Vice President of marketing Technology at Shiftcomm.com1 says that by themselves, impressions mean nothing. He uses the example of billboards on the freeway, counting the number of cars that pass by as impressions, when many of the occupants of those cars may not remember or even notice the billboards. It’s really about “potential” impressions.

Impress ’em!

Think about the word impression, though. It literally means to ‘press into’ – to impact or leave an imprint in the mind. Something that actually makes an impression, or impresses you, sticks. Obviously, the more eyeballs that see something, the greater the opportunity to make a mark. But the ultimate test of your impressions is buy-in.

Penn says to “Measure instead what impressions create: awareness and perception...” He recommends that you look at how often people are searching online with your name, downloading or clicking through your website content, which is visible in Google Analytics.

Google analytics blog views

3D Social Media Metrics

So, whether you focus on engagement, reach or impressions, each one reflects a deepening commitment to social media results, which matter only in relation to your goals.

  • Aiming for higher engagement in hopes that the goodwill it builds will result in new customers? That’s first dimensional.
  • Watching reach and impressions as a measure of your social media success? That’s second dimensional.
  • Experimenting with the cause and effect of different types of content and their measurable effect in Google Analytics? That’s the deep dive into the third dimension, where you’re really discovering how much you’ve impressed your audience.


Shiftcomm.com: What is the Value of an Impression?

SocialTimes: Cutting through the Social Media Jargon