Whenever we are spending time, money, and energy on a strategy, we have to know and articulate what “success” would like like if the strategy accomplishes its goals. This is as true for social media as it is for anything else.
Measuring success on social media can be slippery.
How to measure the success of a social media strategy is a pretty controversial topic among even the most skilled marketers.
Is social media marketing success defined by how much revenue it generates? What about how many impressions content receives? How does engagement play a role?
It is fair to say that different social media strategies can be deployed in different ways and at different times to accomplish a variety of goals, revenue, impressions, or otherwise.
But let’s take revenue out of the discussion for a minute, because it is a different beast altogether. Pursuing revenue goals on social media often require a very different strategy than more “awareness” based goals.
So when it comes to social media strategies that are not meant to drive revenue but create some “brand awareness,” which is more important: impressions or engagement?
The Case for Impressions
The definition of an “impression” is going to vary from platform to platform. Whether it’s called “Reach” like on Facebook, impressions, or something else entirely, “impressions” generally means “the number of people who saw this content” and/or “the number of timelines in which this content appeared.”
Impressions numbers are always going to be higher than engagement numbers. Why? Because engagements are always a subset of impressions. Just think about it logically: if someone engages with your content, they have to have seen it. But the opposite isn’t true. People could see your content and choose not to engage it.
Because impressions numbers are always going to be higher, the temptation to count impressions rather than engagements is real. If you want to try to impress a boss, make the case that your content is super popular, or otherwise make it look like you have quantitative success, you will be tempted to cite your impressions numbers instead of your engagement numbers.
There is some validity to this. Impressions mean something. Impressions mean someone is aware of you, your brand, and your content, when they may not have known about all of that before.
It’s like a billboard.
When someone sees a billboard, they can’t engage with it, but it keeps whatever is presented on the billboard top of mind. When I recently bought a car, I checked out Carvana because I see four Carvana billboards on the way home every day. I probably wouldn’t have looked into it otherwise.
You can also make the case for impressions by saying that increasing impressions ultimately increases the pool of potential engagers, readers, purchasers, etc. Building impressions, you could say, isn’t the end goal, but can be an effective goal on the way to more impactful goals down the line. “You have to have impressions before you can have engagements,” you could say.
That’s all valid, but it doesn’t end there.
Impressions point to awareness, but not necessarily interest. This is where engagement comes into the picture.
The Case for Engagement
The case for engagement is strong. Creating content that generates impressions is important, but those who make the case for engagement being more important than impressions would say that good content creates both impressions and engagement simultaneously.
Those who make the case for engagement would say, “Why would you focus on impressions when the same content can accomplish the goal of impressions and engagement?”
Focusing on impressions too much can generate false positives when you’re evaluating what content was or was not effective. If you create a piece of social media content that gets a lot of impressions but had low engagement, you have to ask the question, “How valuable were those impressions, really?”
The case for engagement is simple and strong: why only pursue impressions when the same content can yield impressions and engagement?
But which is more important to consider?
I’m not sure if you can tell, but I think that when deploying a social media strategy to accomplish brand awareness and audience interest, measuring engagements is more valuable than simply measuring impressions.
Basically for all of the reasons listed in the section above that make the case for focusing on engagement over impressions.
It is easy to manufacture impressions on social media platforms. You can buy followers. You can beg people to share content to large audiences. You can pull all kinds of levers to manufacture inorganic levels of impressions.
Engagement is harder to fake. It’s harder to manufacture. Engagement is more likely to show you people who are actually interested (for good or bad) in your content. That is more valuable than simply seeing how many people viewed your content.
What are your thoughts? Do you prefer impressions or engagement?
Chris Martin is the Co-Creator and Chief Content Officer at LifeWay Social as well as a Content Strategist at LifeWay. He and his wife Susie live outside Nashville, TN.