Cutting Through the Social Media Jargon: What Are Reach, Impressions and Engagement?

What's the difference between reach, impressions and engagement — and how can these metrics be used to develop an effective social strategy?

In social media marketing we talk a lot about engagement, reach and impressions, but what does this jargon mean and how does it impact your business?

According to Lema Kikuchi, senior data analyst for social analytics firm SumAll, there is lots of confusion around the three words because they could mean different things on different platforms. She offered some basic definitions on each of the key metrics:

  • Reach: the number of people who see your content.
  • Impressions: the number of times your content is displayed.
  • Engagement: the number of interactions people have with your content (i.e.: likes, comments, shares, retweets, etc.)

There are a number of different ways to track these metrics, and most social platforms will offer some form of analytics. For instance, on the Twitter analytics page you might find “Tweet impressions.” But measuring engagement on Twitter means tracking various actions including clicks, favorites, retweets, and @replies.

Kikuchi recommends using a social analytics tool to track all of the metrics in one place. She also suggested turning the definitions into questions to avoid getting lost in the jargon.

How many people saw my post (for Reach)? How many times did my post get displayed (for Impressions)? How many times did people interact with my posts (for Engagement)?

The main purpose of social media marketing is to raise brand awareness, which means reaching as many people as possible and growing your audience. Kikuchi notes:

The hope is that your social media content will get people excited about your product or your brand so that they will come buy from you or visit your website, and tell all their friends to do the same.

With this in mind, engagement becomes the most important metric in social media campaigns. More specifically, Kikuchi says, engagement wherein your audience helps display your content to more people by sharing, retweeting or repinning (on Pinterest) is the most valuable social metric. High-quality engagement will often drive reach and impressions up as well.

Ultimately, tracking these metrics can help inform your content strategy. Good content will organically result in boosts in all three areas. However, Kikuchi acknowledges that the development of “good content” can be a process of trial and error. She notes that the metrics are there to make the process more efficient.

Pay attention to everything from post length to image colors to media types and see what generates the sharing that will bring new eyes (and new customers) back to your website.

Readers: What other social marketing terms lead to confusion?

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.