what do social media impressions really mean

What Do Social Media Impressions Really Mean?

As a Data Analyst for a digital marketing company, I am constantly swimming in a sea of metrics. I look to showcase the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that matter most to our clients. One of the more contentious KPIs in the digital media ocean is social media “impressions”. Some people claim impressions are the most important metric to track. Others say it’s a metric that does not provide much actionable information.

social media impressions

The Institute for Public Relations states that impressions are “the number of people who might have had the opportunity to be exposed to a story that has appeared in the media, also known as ‘opportunity to see’ (OTS).” In short, this means the number of chances a person saw the published content.

However, it’s hard to put this definition in a box because these days the word impressions is applicable to everything. From magazines, billboards, TV ads, social media posts, and Google Ads, every platform crafts its own definition with their own way to measure impressions.

So, what are they really? And what is the final verdict on the importance of this metric in the digital marketing realm? 

In this blog, let’s focus on social media impressions and their value on the most popular platforms. Saddle up, because impressions can be more complex than they seem.

What are Facebook Impressions?

Facebook defines impressions as “the number of times any content from your page or about your page entered a person’s screen.” If your content loads on someone’s page early in the morning and later at night the same day, two impressions will be counted.

Algorithms can be quite powerful and have almost perfect precision. 

Why do Facebook Impressions Matter?

facebook impressionsImpressions serve as an initial way of seeing if your content starts gaining traction.  Content being liked, commented, or shared content by the community typically gains priority on people’s Facebook News Feed. This can give you early insight into how your post is performing. However, it won’t give you the details on how many specific people are seeing or engaging with your content.

Use this metric as an early diagnosis tool, but supplement it with others like “engagements” and “reach” (the number of people who saw any content from your page or about your page).

Speaking of reach, there’s a constant debate on its importance compared to impressions. We will devote a full blog post to reach later on, but if you are interested in learning more about it, go check this post by the experts at Hootsuite comparing the two metrics.

What are Instagram Impressions?

Since Instagram now belongs to Facebook, it’s safe to assume that the impressions metric is very similar. Instagram defines impressions as “the total number of times all of your posts and stories have been seen.” As you probably imagined, there is also a Reach metric. 

What do Instagram Impressions tell me?

instagram impressionsSimilar to Facebook impressions, on Instagram, this metric gives you a glance at your content’s traction. One thing to notice, as explained by Techcrunch, is how Instagram “relies on machine learning based on past behavior to create a unique feed for everyone”.

This means your content will have more impressions if it’s relevant to people, if they interact with it, and if they follow your company. 

More content put out means more impressions, but this number won’t start taking off until you nail what people really want to consume. Take this into account when tracking your impressions over time.

What are Twitter Impressions?

Twitter defines its impressions as the “times people were served a Tweet in their timeline or search results.” 

Different from the other social media platforms, Twitter doesn’t limit company accounts to view their impressions, they share this information with the average user. Good news for aspiring Twitter comedians, you can start cashing out on the advantage of these too.

Are Twitter Impressions Important?

For this platform, impressions are more important since there’s no “reach” metric to see a full picture of your brand’s awareness. Impressions are the metric that matters when it comes to measuring how many eyeballs are seeing your content.

The platform rewards valuable content by showing it to more people on their Home timelines, meaning more impressions. Your content is valuable if: 

  • people interact with your account often 
  • if the content is similar to the content they typically engage with

Even if the said person doesn’t follow you, your content may appear in their feed depending on how popular your tweets are or how many people in their network interact with it. As Twitter states, their “goal is to show you content […] that you’re most interested in and contributes to the conversation in a meaningful way, such as content that is relevant, credible and safe.”twitter impressions

The difference for company accounts is that impressions for paid ads have a small subtlety to take into account. They will “automatically optimize which Tweets serve most often in your campaign based on their chance of engagement”. 

To do this, paid ads are ranked using an “ad score.” Therefore, having a higher ad score will give your paid Tweets more impressions. There is a lot of documentation and guidance on how to optimize your paid tweets on Twitter’s official help page, so make sure to check it out if you’re looking for more information. 

What are LinkedIn Impressions and How are They Calculated?

LinkedIn gets very specific with its definition of impressions and the way they calculate it for a company page. LinkedIn defines impressions as “views when the update is at least 50% on screen for at least 300 ms, or when it is clicked, whichever comes first.”

Let’s break this down: to be an impression, 50% of the post has to be on the screen for 300 milliseconds (or 0.3 seconds). A very fast glance, huh? This means someone scrolling through their feed at an average speed will probably trigger an impression. 

linkedin impressions

Impressions here mean the post was available for the user, but they did not necessarily “see” it.

Now, LinkedIn adds another layer of complexity to the metric by adding Sponsored Impressions. 

These are impressions that come from Sponsored Content campaigns created with LinkedIn Campaign Manager. There are many intricacies in Sponsored campaigns. For more information go check LinkedIn’s help page on this for more information.

Lastly, LinkedIn gives us an extra nugget of insight with their Unique Impressions (almost the equivalent to Facebook and Instagram’s Reach).

LinkedIn does not have an official definition for these, but as explained in an article by Hootsuite, they are impressions “excluding revisits.” In other words, they are the number of people who had the opportunity to see your post at least one time.

Post Impressions vs. Post Views

Say you are a thought leader who wants to check your performance on your personal LinkedIn page.

At Modthink, we work with many Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) that are always striving to perfect their LinkedIn game. While LinkedIn may not give you impressions for the content you personally put out, they do count your Views.

Hang on a second, why the new name? Aren’t they the same thing? 

The short answer appears to be yes. 

Even when the official documentation isn’t as thorough for this term, as pointed out by Bruce Johnston in his article on the subject, “when you share an update, a “view” is counted when the update is loaded on the viewer’s screen.” Views become even more complicated in regards to videos and articles, but we’ll save that for later.

What is the Value of Impressions for My Company and Me?

We have seen that impressions take many forms on the platform. Let’s go over how each one can give you a different perspective of your social media game. 

Impressions for a company page and views for an individual are an indicator of your content’s viewership capacity. In other words, how much the platform distributes the content. 

A large number is good because of how the LinkedIn algorithm distributes content.

the value of impressions

First, LinkedIn sends your post out to a small subgroup of your connections. If the post gets enough engagement, then LinkedIn distributes it further. More impressions can mean further distribution.

However, over time this metric can start to give you the wrong idea of your post-performance. As time goes by, the post might still be distributed, but the people who liked or shared aren’t actively engaged anymore. Those who had previously commented are less likely to do so again. 

Impressions will keep going up while engagement stalls, which is not good post-performance anymore. Impressions should be seen as a short term metric to give us an idea of the capabilities of our content.

Unique Impressions provide another piece of the story, the reach of your post. Since this metric only counts an impression once for every user exposed to the content, it can be better paired with engagement. As the algorithm distributes the post, more people (Unique Impressions) see it and have the opportunity to engage with it. A positive engagement growth together with high unique impressions growth means that your post providing value to the community.

Key Takeaways about Social Media Impressions

Phew, that was a lot of information, wasn’t it? 

Here are a few key takeaways:

  • Impressions are measured and defined differently on social media platforms. They all tell a similar story: the number of times users are exposed to your content.
  • Impressions only tell you part of the story and should be considered mostly in the short run.
  • Pair the insight you get from impressions with your content’s engagement and reach (or Unique Impressions) for a more complete view of performance.

I hope this post helps to untangle the complex nature of digital media analytics. 

Learn more about impressions and other digital marketing topics on our website, modthink.com or check out our LinkedIn page.

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