I wrote about Twitter reach and impressions a couple of years ago (here). That was before Twitter revamped their Analytics dashboard. That was before Twitter gave us a good amount of metrics. Twitter analytics evolved considerably in those 2 years, but one thing seems to remain: the confusion between reach and impression. There is a difference between the two metrics, but a lot of articles, posts and social tools seem to confuse the two. I was recently catching up on my Feedbin inbox and I came across this post on the Buffer Social blog: “how to create a social media report and explain it to your boss or client”, a post I definitely recommend reading.
I then stumbled upon this:
“Reach can sometimes be a bit of a tricky term. Facebook uses it to refer to the number of people who see a post. Twitter calls the same thing Impressions.”
Sure, both reach and impressions refer to your exposure, be it your content exposure, or profile exposure. Still, they are not the same thing.
Similar, but not the same
Reach and impressions aren’t the same. “Reach” is the number of people who have seen your content, while “impressions” is the number of times your content was seen.
This may appear as a subtle difference, but it makes a lot of difference, especially on social networks where you’re served the same content multiple times, like Facebook.
The same concept exists in so many other scenarios, like advertising, where you have a metric showing you how many times your ads were served (ad impressions) vs. how many people saw those ads (ad reach); or web analytics, where you have a metric showing you how many times your webpage was viewed (pageviews) vs. how many people viewed it (visitors). In fact, we could say that visitors is to reach as pageviews are to impressions.
That’s the difference, in a nutshell. So, why the confusion?
Lack of Clarity
A lot of tools nowadays don’t offer much information on the metrics they offer. Some of these tool suppliers may say that they have access to Twitter, but they won’t tell you if that access is via the Twitter APIs or the Twitter Firehose (the results you get from those sources do differ).
Others may offer you an engagement rate, but they won’t tell you how that rate is calculated, even though the way an engagement rate is calculated can totally change the output of such ratio, whether it’s an engagement rate for Facebook, for Twitter or another social media platform.
Unfortunately, a lot of companies behind these social media analytics tools don’t offer much clarity behind metrics like reach and impressions, sometimes only offering either metric, or confusing the terms, which in turn may confuse users who rely on these metrics for their reports.
While I believe that social tools should be transparent in what the metrics they offer actually mean and how they’re calculated, it’s the responsibility of the user to ask those questions - whether you’re paying for the tool, or whether you’re using a free tool, a trial or a demo.
What’s the fuss?
So what if you’re using reach instead of impressions or vice versa? If that’s you, then you may be undercounting or overcounting your stats. It gets even worse when you use those figures as part of other metrics (e.g. as part of an engagement rate), or if you’re basing your next business decision on inaccurate reporting.
So, again, whether you’re paying for an analytics tool, or you’re using one for free, or perhaps you’re just on a trial, a demo, or you’re just exporting stats from the platform, make sure you’re fully clear on what those metrics actually mean. This is even more imperative when you start reporting on these metrics or when you make them your KPIs: don’t report on metrics you don’t fully understand.
That is why I applaud tools like Simply Measured, a tool that offers a description of what each and every metric means within your dashboard. Furthermore, they also have a blog post written on these metrics too, because sometimes a brief description of what a metric is or what a metric does is simply not enough. (I definitely recommend checking out their Resources page too, with complete guides on what Facebook, Twitter and Instagram metrics mean.)
Here’s a challenge for you: go through the reports you receive and generate on a regular basis, and ask yourself the following three questions for each and every metric:
1. What does this metric really mean?
2. How is this metrics calculated?
3. Why am I reporting on this?
Through it all, one thing remains true: