Social Media Reach Vs. Impressions: What's the Difference Between the Two?

by: Dustin Hawley | Wednesday October 23, 2019

So let's say your business is working toward improving its brand awareness. Is your marketing team doing everything in their power to grow and influence your audience on social media? Whether your team is deep in the weeds trying to attain relevancy on social, or you are just getting started building your audience online, it’s imperative to know the difference between reach and impressions on social media.

reach vs impressions graphic

These two terms are commonly encountered by marketers today (especially in the world of influencer marketing), yet there is still some confusion as to what makes each metric so important. Most organizations these days have a solid understanding of the importance of social media engagement. But when it comes to creating and implementing an effective strategy, it’s all about a brand's ability to accurately measure their metrics and find areas to improve their efforts.

Whether you're a large corporation or a mom-and-pop establishment, social media marketing can be a highly effective strategy for reaching out to your target market. Today, brands can target an audience without a huge marketing budget. than it is today. However, the truth remains that success with your social media marketing only comes to those who analyze and understand their analytics.

The Difference Between Reach vs. Impressions

Reach is defined as the total number of people who see/view your content. Impressions are the number of times your content is displayed, regardless of whether or not it was clicked. It's important to know the difference and how it may affect your social media content creation.

Think of it like this: reach is the number of unique people who see your content. Every single one of your followers would see every one of your posts...in a perfect world. But we all know that’s not exactly how things work on social media. With all of the shifts in culture and, most notably, changes to the algorithms of most relevant platforms, not all of your followers see every post you publish on your feed.

An impression simply means that your content was delivered to someone’s feed. Whether a viewer engages with the post or not is irrelevant, the delivery itself counts as an impression. This means one person could have multiple impressions for a single piece of content.

graphic that describes the difference between reach and impressions

More About Reach & Impressions

Reach and impressions are very similar, but an underlying difference remains when it comes to engagement. For example, let’s say you have 100 followers on Instagram and you published a post on your feed If every one of your followers saw the post, you have reached 100 users–creating 100 impressions.

Now let's say tomorrow you publish two posts to those same 100 followers. If your follower count didn't change, your reach is still the same 100 users. However, you have now created 200 impressions. Why? Because all of your 100 followers saw both posts you published. This may be a challenging concept for some, but it's imperative to have a deep understanding of these differences when it comes to tracking the success of a social media campaign.

If you take nothing else from these descriptions, take this: Reach = number of people who may have seen your content, and Impressions = the total number of times your content was displayed to a user.

More about Engagement Metrics

To better understand how to improve your brand's reach and impressions, it's best practice to learn about other metrics related to engagement. Why? Because there are different kinds of reach and impression metrics for each social network—and this is particularly true with Facebook.

Other platforms may include standard data sets like reach and impressions in their social media analytics, but they’re pretty basic. Facebook, on the other hand, shows your reach and impressions broken down by post type and other specific categories, which is crucial to understanding where to find areas that need improvement, or where you need double down on your efforts.

screenshot of facebook engagement metrics

How Reach vs. Impressions Affects Your Marketing Strategy

Now that you have better clarity on the key differences between reach vs. impressions, it’s also important to know that you must also look beyond their definitions and determine what they mean for your marketing strategy.

Understand Your Target Audience

For businesses both big and small, it’s important to extend your reach to as many potential consumers as possible. As your efforts increase, and with it your reach on social media, it will naturally lead to increased awareness for your company.  However, even if you’re reaching 10,000 people, it doesn't mean much if 1,000 of them (or less) have an interest in your brand or it's products.

Tailor your brand messages and your content strategy with your target audience top of mind. Keep an eye on the content that’s being shared, liked, commented on, etc. Tracking these engagements helps you find potential users to target, thus extending your total reach while also continuing to build brand awareness.

Final Thoughts

Learning the difference between reach and impressions has its share of complexities, but it’s not impossible to understand by any means. Once you have distinguished these two metrics, you can then begin working toward the most important one: engagement.

But before engagement comes awareness, and at the end of the day, it's reach and impressions that drive people to take action. They are somewhat ubiquitous, as you can't really can’t have one without the other, and you can’t improve one without impacting the other as well. When you’re thinking about how to increase engagement in your next brainstorming session, be sure to consider how reach and impressions will play into the overall campaign, and how to effectively achieve the best results from both metrics.

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