Marketers and social media users alike often struggle to understand the difference between reach and impressions.
This is to be expected, though.
It’s safe to say that terms like “reach” and “impressions” in relation to social media have become marketing buzzwords; everyone uses them, but few actually understand what they mean.
To evaluate the success of your campaign and fine-tune your social media approach, you should begin by mastering the fundamentals, or in this case, the distinction between reach and impressions.
Let’s get right down to examining the implications of the differences between these two fundamental metrics for your company.
When comparing Reach and Impressions, what are the key differences?
Reach indicates the total number of people who saw your content, while impressions show how often each individual saw it.
In theory, your social media followers should be exposed to every post you make.
After all, they followed you in the first place so they could see your latest updates.
Unfortunately, that’s not how social media functions.
Because social media sites use intricate algorithms to determine which posts users see, only a small percentage of your followers will see your updates when you make them.
After years of algorithm shifts and the widely reported decline of organic reach on the most popular social media platforms, this percentage is actually quite small.
Reduced exposure means fewer people are exposed to your content, which in turn means fewer people are engaging with it and less people are having conversations with you about becoming customers (we’ll get into the specifics of how reach affects engagement and conversations further down).
Lucky for you,’reach’ doesn’t stop at your fan base.
If a follower interacts with your content, it may appear in the feeds of other users they are connected with or on the explore page.
It is therefore not surprising to find that among the people you have communicated with, a sizeable fraction (perhaps 20%, 30%, or even 60%) are not followers.
Now, impressions are always greater than reach because a single user can generate multiple impressions of a given piece of content.
For the sake of argument, let’s say that five different users saw your post, and that each of them saw it twice.
You’ll have a 5-to-10 ratio in terms of impressions and reach.
It really is that easy!
Remember that reach refers to the total number of people reached, while impressions demonstrate how often something was seen (times the content was shown).
Let’s dig deeper into these concepts in light of today’s most popular social media sites…
Analyzing Social Media Metrics in Greater Detail
Some apps will provide only broad insights into reach and impressions, while others will provide a more comprehensive overview, depending on the weight each platform gives to the various social media metrics.
We can better grasp the interplay between reach and impressions if we compare and contrast how the most popular platforms define, calculate, and categorise these social media metrics.
…and that’s what we’re going to do in a minute.
A Comparison of Facebook’s Reach and Impressions
Reach, as defined by Facebook’s Business Ads Help Centre, is “the total number of people who encountered your ads.” In addition, the text specifies that reach is an indirect metric.
If a metric is difficult to quantify, the platform can provide an estimate based on a statistical sampling of the data.
Because of this, the figures may shift as new information becomes available.
In addition, “reach is different to impressions, which may include multiple views of your ads by the same people,” as explained in the Facebook Business Ads Help Centre.
Simply put, more impressions mean more people saw your content.
Engagement is what’s missing from metrics like reach and impressions.
Simply put, there is no foolproof way to tell if a user saw your ad, clicked on it, or simply ignored it after it was displayed.
Facebook organises metrics like reach and impressions into three buckets to help you gauge your campaign’s efficacy and fine-tune your approach.
Reach and impressions from organic sources indicate the number of people who saw your content without paying for it.
Paid reach and impressions are the quantities that result from your financial investments in marketing channels like Facebook Ads.