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Social Media Impressions vs. Reach: Which Matters More?

When we talk social media, we usually talk about impressions and reach. To the uninitiated, these terms sound interchangeable, but in the social media sphere there's a world of difference between them. So what are they exactly, and which one is more important?

What are Impressions?

Social media impressions are the total number of times your content has been shown to users. It does not include engagement - just the number of times it was served up. It's important to remember that just because a post was served up to a user it doesn't necessarily mean that they truly saw it - consider your own social media activity when scrolling. Do you stop and read every post, or do you glance at the image/header and keep scrolling? In social media jargon, this would count as an impression even though you didn't really stop to look at the content. For a more thorough breakdown of how impressions are calculated on each social network, check out this blog post from HubSpot.


What is Reach?

Social Media reach is the number of people who engaged with your content. This includes clicking, liking, commenting and sharing. This can include both people that are following you on social media and non-followers who see your post. In simple terms, impressions are passive consumption while reach is active consumption of content.


Which Matters More?

The question of which matters more depends on your business goals and the type of content you're considering. 

Impressions matter more for building familiarity with your brand. Even if users don't take the time to engage with your posts, the more they see your name in their feed the more they begin to recognize you. For that reason, impressions are an important consideration for ads on social media. Even if a customer isn't ready to click on your post and make a purchase, they may still be interested in your product and seeing your ad via an impression can be a spark.  

Reach matters more for building an audience and having a trackable return on investment (ROI). For example, a click on an ad can lead to a direct conversion if that person then fills out a form or buys your product, so reach is an important metric to track as well. In terms of posts that are unpaid, reach typically is the better metric to track to gauge customer interest of your posts.

To get a whole picture of your social media performance, it's important to track both of these metrics. However, it's important to know the difference between the two so you can track the metric most relevant to your current goals and efforts. By doing that, you paint the clearest picture of your social media activity.

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