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When a Social Media Impression Is Not an Impression

ImageThe social impressions metric – and the number in the multi-millions that typically precede it – is often the fail-safe analytic tool of the social media marketer. This seemingly arbitrary number, typically totaling in the multi-millions, can be quite impressive at first blush (and look good in a deck to the client). However, leaning on this metric crutch does a disservice to social because it clouds what truly differentiates social from other marketing –engagement and actual awareness that comes with it. 

It seems every measurement tool has its own definition of a ‘Social Impression’, but that definition always takes the theoretical maximum number of views based on the number of followers each participant has. Unfortunately, the metric is disingenuous at best. The likelihood that every follower was online, saw, engaged, recorded, took note and let their eyes fall over that specific interaction is unlikely (if not impossible). Consider this – would Nielsen have any validity if they counted every single person with a television set and the means to watch a particular channel as a viewer of every single program on that channel. 

That is why leading with the social impression metric can obfuscate the reality that a few users with inflated follower numbers who are simply talking out into an echo chamber can result in a massive ‘social impression’ number. The idea behind the impression on a platform like Twitter is sound – since most people use Twitter simply to consume, not produce. When we consider this fact, the impression appears viable since awareness will always be a big part of social. The problem is with the measurement itself, its inherent fallibility, and the expectations that come along with its acceptance. What we should focus on are the truly relevant are metrics that actually value engagement, reach, or awareness of those interactions – not hypotheticals.

To see if millions of social impressions claimed can cloud the real and actual number of participants, I took a closer look at a recent campaign Corvette did to help launch the Stingray that received 87 million social impressions. This massive number unto itself should go some way to indicating the danger of relying on the social impression metric – did of upwards of a third of all American adults actually became aware of the Stingray through social? Obviously not.

Looking at the data straight from the firehose, there were 72,772 Corvette Stingray tweets sent from December 2012 – May 2013. Of those, 56,526 tweets were sent by unique individuals. 56,000 people on Twitter talking about a new car is an impressive number and the campaign, without question, remains an extremely successful one. However, it is impossible to accurately calculate how many consumers came in contact with the content pushed by those 56,000 people, and therein lies the risk of considering a social impression as anything more than a very ethereal, absolute-best-case-scenario estimate.

Would media run a story trumpeting the fact that 56,000 real and actual people were tweeting about the new Corvette over a 5-month timespan? Probably not, and that’s the danger of the numbers arms race. However, I’d encourage brands to worry less about the media coverage and dig into metrics that, while may seemingly result in smaller numbers, account for true engagement and real interactions including response rates, shares and re-tweets. Don’t let actual noise and actual awareness become secondary to metrics in the multi-millions, media write-up and client kudos.

image: social impressions/shutterstock

Join The Conversation

  • Oct 12 Posted 3 years ago Muffi_adda

    I somewhat agree with you..I have been doing such campaigns in Pakistan and have realised that the impression game has lost its value. Our focus should now be diverted towards more responsive outputs. But the question still remains unanswered, the noise is too much and impression game is ending, a year later responsive campaigns would die out too as everybody will be focusing on whats next?

  • Ryan Riley's picture
    Oct 11 Posted 3 years ago Ryan Riley

    Great article! I'm still in school but I'm looking to pursue a career in social after I graduate. This is a good read for me because I think it would be tempting for me to 

    1. advertize impression numbers to show sucess 


    2. actually be fooled into trusting those numbers 

     I'm glad I got to read this article so I am aware of the realities of impressions versus actual engagment. Using te Corvette example really helped put things in perspective as well.


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