For most people, the difference between reach and impressions is confusing. But, it is an important thing to know because having a great social media account is about more than just posting regularly or the number of followers you have. 

When creating your social media marketing plan, you may have to decide on which to prioritize – reach or impressions. Let’s say you aim to increase your visibility… Focusing on reach to achieve this aim is different from using impressions to do so. 

Even more confused? Don’t sweat it! We’re gonna go in-depth in explaining what the difference between reach and impressions is, and which one to use to achieve specific marketing goals. 

The Difference Between Reach And Impressions: Definitions

Reach is the number of times users have seen your post or ad. It counts the individuals who have viewed the content, including people who don’t follow you but still engage with your content. Eg: if 10 people have seen your content, then your reach for that post is 10. 

Impressions, on the other hand, counts the number of times your content is displayed on devices. If your content appeared 15 times, then the number of post impressions is 15. 

Now, let’s give these definitions a bit of context…

You’ve posted a picture on Instagram. You have 200 followers but because of the Instagram algorithm and other reasons, only 50 people see your brilliant content. However, your content popped up on users’ devices 100 times. 

So, your reach is 50, while your number of impressions is 100. Reach refers to the number of users, while impressions refer to the number of times. 

There are also some key things we can take away from this example: 

  1. Your following does not equal your reach. Rather, reach is the fraction of your followers that your post actually, well, reaches. There are many reasons why your audience might miss a post, primary among them being the algorithm of that particular social media platform. 
  2. Users just need to see your post for it to count as a new impression. They don’t need to click, like, comment, etc. That is a different kind of metric called engagement

Makes sense? Awesome!

Laptop and notebook

The Difference Between Reach And Impressions On Social Media Platforms

As you might imagine, there’s also a difference between reach and impressions depending on the social media platform you are using. To get a sense of how both metrics translate for each platform, let’s do a brief but deep dive into Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook’s reach and impressions. 

Instagram & Facebook

It’s no surprise that these two define these metrics in the same way since Facebook is now the parent company to Instagram. They both use the definition from before: reach as “the number of people who saw your post at least once”, and impressions as “the number of times your ads were on screen.”

Facebook further categorizes reach and impressions:

  1. Organic – measures the number of people (reach) and the number of times (impressions) that they encountered News Feed posts that weren’t paid Ads.
  2. Paid – measures the number of people and the number of times that they encountered paid posts like Facebook Ads. 
  3. Viral – measures the number of people and the number of times that people encountered your content because your followers shared, liked, or commented on your post, thereby exposing it to their audience.

With all these categories, it still gets a bit difficult to use reach and impression to measure the real results of your posts and ads. For example, if your post might appear on your follower’s page but they have a bad connection. Analytics would count them as a reach and an impression because they have ‘seen’ the content but in reality, they may be waiting for the image to load and frustratedly scroll past without seeing it. 

How can you know, then, if your users really see your posts? 

Facebook further separates impressions into “served” and “viewed” impressions. Think of it like this: A waiter can bring the food to the table and serve it but it doesn’t mean you will consume it. 

Served ads are measured once paid for and delivered to a user’s page, feed, etc. Nobody needs to actually view the ad. They are served as long as they are on the page even if they’re below the fold.

Viewed ads, though, are all about consumption. The user needs to actually see the ad. If they scroll away because the post is loading slowly, it just doesn’t count. So, viewed impressions are the better indicator of your post’s impact. 

Twitter

Twitter doesn’t measure reach, only impressions. So, the debates on which to focus on and the difference between reach and impressions don’t affect Tweeters. A Twitter impression refers to any time a user sees a Tweet. While Tweet impressions show the number of times a Tweet appears to a user via the Twitter platform, it doesn’t count tweets seen through external or third-party platforms or websites. 

Although Twitter’s analytics are a bit more limited than Facebook or Instagram, you can use analytics programs to expand how you measure your Twitter metric. 

Analytics on paper

Using Reach And Impressions

It’s always a good idea to target an increase in reach as well as impressions as both metrics are important indicators of your visibility and the performance of your brand campaigns. But, there are specific scenarios when it may be best to focus on one or the other. 

So, to wrap up, we’ll leave you with these tips on when to use reach or impressions. 

Pick reach if: 

  • You want to decrease the repetition of the same ads to the same people.
  • You want to optimize the number of people your campaign touches. 
  • You want to monitor and improve conversions from your campaigns.
  • You want to increase engagement. 

Or opt for impressions when: 

  • You want immediate feedback on how your ad is doing. 
  • You want to improve the performance of your ad quickly to avoid wasted money and resources.

Go on then… Make an impression and reach your social media goals!

Adie Marais
Author

Account Manager | Contentellect - Intelligent Content Creation

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