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Smartphone being held in someones hand with social media analytics being displayed. Green foliage in the background.

When it comes to measuring the success of social media content and gauging the effectiveness of your strategy, you can’t underestimate the importance of analytics. Particularly analytics that measure exposure. Two of the most important metrics that provide insight into your exposure include reach and impressions, which are often lumped together. But they aren’t the same thing – each tells its own story. 

Both reach and impressions measure content distribution on social media, but they both have unique advantages. Understanding what they are and when to use reach vs. impressions (and vice versa) can make a big impact on your social media marketing success. 

Impressions Defined

Simply put, impressions measure the number of times your content has been displayed to a user. If one piece of content was displayed on the same user’s device 10 different times, this would count as 10 impressions. It’s not uncommon for social media users to see your content multiple times throughout your campaign.

When you think about impressions, it’s critical to remember that it doesn’t always give you the whole story. Many marketers mistakenly believe that impressions give you all the insight you need to know about the impact of your efforts. But this metric doesn’t always do that. Impressions may still be counted even if a user quickly backs out of a loaded page or fails to scroll to the ad.

There are two types of impressions. Understanding the difference between the two is important for gaining the insight you need.

Served Impressions

These impressions don’t take whether users actually see the content or not. Served impressions can be counted even if a user quickly backs out of a loaded page or fails to scroll to the ad. Served impressions don’t give you an accurate picture of the impact of your content.

Viewed Impressions

Viewed impressions give you a more accurate way to measure the impact of your ads. Viewed impressions are the metric that tells you that your content is actually getting to its intended audience. You can also use this information to better understand what’s standing between your ads and your audience. For example, ad-blocking software or user behavior could be preventing actual views.

Reach Defined

When you measure the reach of your content, you are determining how many unique users have viewed your posts. For example, if you’ve published a piece of content and 5,000 people view it, your reach would be 5,000. Reach does not account for how many times each user has consumed that piece of content. If each person saw your content multiple times, the reach would still remain 5,000. Your reach will never exceed the number of impressions for a single piece of content.

It’s important to note that each social media platform may calculate or define these metrics differently. For example, Twitter doesn’t calculate reach at all, relying on impressions instead. Facebook defines it simply as the number of unique Facebook users who see your ad or post. 

Facebook Analytics also divides reach into three categories. Organic reach is the number of users who saw it free of charge in their news feeds. Paid reach is the number of people who saw content that’s been paid to be placed on the platform. Viral reach describes how many viewers saw your ad through friends sharing.

Reach vs. Impressions: How to Use Them

To simplify things, reach can help you determine how wide of an audience your campaign was able to capture and impressions can help you determine the impact that your campaign had on that same audience. Using both metrics together is a great way to make sure you’re connecting with your target audience. More importantly, each of these analytics has the ability to give you a solid picture of the health of your ad campaign.

High Impressions with lower reach can reveal that your audience is getting bombarded by your ad content. Monitoring these metrics closely can help you prevent ad fatigue. It can also give you insights into the quality of your ads. For example, minimal impressions over the lifespan of your campaign could be a sign that you need to revamp the content or change the framework.

You should also consider conversions when monitoring your reach. A wide reach with little conversion may indicate that your ad content is good, but your audience targeting might be off. This is a golden opportunity to switch things up to increase effectiveness.

Building a Strong Social Strategy

Digital marketing and advertising have given us more data than we know what to do with but both reach and impressions have come a long way from traditional advertising. With all of the bells and whistles found in typical data dashboards, it’s easy to get distracted from these foundational metrics. However, they should not be ignored.

When reviewing your analytics, it’s not a matter of reach vs. impressions. Using these two metrics together is a straight-forward method for gathering insights into how your marketing campaigns are performing amongst your target audience. When building your next social strategy, be sure to consider both as your key performance indicators.