An Impression is not an Impression Unless it Makes One

This was probably one of the best quotes of ad:tech San Francisco (yes, I know that was a while ago).

Marketers have become so obsessed with measuring how many fans (now likes) or followers they have or how many “impressions” their ad makes, and are potentially losing site of whether or not any of these things are REALLY making impressions.  A follower or fan that completely ignores your message isn’t worth much.

I’ve seen a lot of conferences use this logic to promote the reach of the conference to potential advertisers.  Some media publications are also starting to report metrics in this way.  The logic goes something like this:

We have X thousand followers, and typically we get X number of brand mentions for each of our sponsors.  When we combine the # of followers that the people who mention you have, you will have a reach of X million for your brand/business/product.

There are a number of problems with this metric.  First, it is using old media metrics in new media, which doesn’t really work.  Second it is assuming that the impressions are actually happening, and finally it assumes that the impressions are worth something.

Old Media Metrics Don’t Really Work in Social Media

The example above, counting the number of “impressions” in social media is really using a traditional media metric in social media.  And it doesn’t really work.

Traditional media uses reach or number of impressions to measure how far reaching their advertising message is going.  Reach is commonly used to quantify television, print or billboard advertising.  Simply using old media measures for new media doesn’t really work that well.

Most of the impressions don’t exist

The reality is that VERY few people, if any, read every single tweet from every single person they follow.  The real reach of a twitter account is much less than the number of followers, and the reach of an individual Tweet is even less than that.

The same is true on Facebook.  The Facebook newsfeed shows the most relevant posts and updates for each individual, not every single post (unless you look at most recent).  If your Facebook post doesn’t have any interactions (likes or comments) chances are it isn’t even making the newsfeed of most of your audience. (I wrote a post about how the Facebook algorithm works a while back).

This is why so many consumers still prefer email – because they know that they won’t miss anything for the brands that they really care about.

The reality is that the concept of followers or fans = impressions doesn’t hold because most people don’t actively monitor every post in social media sites.  Counting impressions just doesn’t work well in social media.

The Impression Might not be Worth Anything.

Even if you can measure the number of impressions accurately, they might not really be worth anything.  The reason that impressions or reach make sense in advertising is because the message (the ad) is tested and controlled.

Advertising messages are tested to be sure that they actually create business value.  Before an ad airs it is tested to be sure that it actually improves the brand or business impression (people think it is better) and that it increases purchase intent (people are more likely to buy it).

In advertising the message is proven to be valuable before it airs.  That is why reach is relevant – because the message is known to be valuable.

In social media not all brand mentions are valuable and actually increase whether or not someone will buy your product over time.  All mentions are not created equal.  TV advertising has proven time and again that an impression that doesn’t focus on brand benefits doesn’t increase sales.  The same is probably true for social media.  The mere mention of a brand without a meaningful benefit probably isn’t valuable.

Bottom Line

Don’t get sucked in to big numbers that may not actually indicate anything.  Focus on creating brand IMPRESSIONS that actually are impressions – that people are reading and that say something meaningful about your brand.

What do you think?

This morning I read a post on Geoff Livingston’s blog that shows that about half of Twitter users read other people’s tweets less than weekly.  This further highlights the fact that your actual audience is probably far less than the number of people who may follow or fan you.

What do you think?


  1. Thanks Krista. You really underscore an organization’s need to interact with those who follow/like/etc. its social media offerings — the necessity of providing valuable content. Just because they follow your Facebook or Twitter feed or blog doesn’t mean they read or view it.

  2. Thank you, Krista, for sharing this insight. Businesses do get bogged down tracking impressions and not tracking sales – look at any business new to a Google Adwords campaign – but I think that this is a result of businesses not understanding how to measure their SM marketing impact. When one is not sure how to accurately quantify a campaign, there is an allure to grabbing any set of statistics to use to support one’s efforts.

    Keep up the good posts.

  3. Mike – thanks for your comment…. and I can’t wait to hear about the awesome things that you do in your new job!!! And you are right – it is all about content – what are you saying that is valuable to people….

  4. Joe – Good point – a lot of people don’t know how to measure, so the just measure the things that are in front of them. I love the Adwords example – people get caught up in measuring what they can vs. thinking through how it may or may not actually drive their business.

    In an ideal world these are indicators of business value, but they may not actually relate to business if you don’t have the right overall strategy.

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