Traditional vs. Social Media Impressions

Lately I’ve been thinking a great deal about social media impressions. More specifically, I’ve been wondering why they don’t really exist.

There are blog posts and seminars cropping up every week that want to teach you about this thing called social media measurement. And while the lessons are not always identical, I find that the overarching message is the same: there is no silver bullet. There are general guidelines, examples and maybe even best practices. But there’s not one easy solution.

Social media is still an untamed beast, and we have a lot to learn before we can truly make a connection between a specific blog post or tweet of Facebook message and some kind of consumer behavior. This is pretty much considered the holy grail of social media.

If I decided to try a new brand of sweet tea, I’m sure the company would love to be able to tie it back to one of their Facebook status updates. Unfortunately, without asking me at the grocery store which post drove me to buy, there is no real way to be sure.

There’s not an easy way to measure online influence on offline behavior…yet. At some point in the future, I think there will be an easier way to make these connections, but right now we have to work with what we’ve got.

A similar problem exists with traditional PR as there’s no easy mechanism to prove that I bought that new brand of soap because I read an article in a magazine or heard a story on the radio. Because social media is far more connected, there is hope that these connections may one day be possible.

Because there was no easy way to prove value by making direct connections to offline behavior, most PR professionals settled on the media impression number as a source of measurement. While it may never be the only measurement, more often than not campaigns are judged by their impressions numbers. (And for fear of starting a debate about the merits of this metric, I believe there is value in using it as an index of sorts, but I digress.)

So keeping in mind there is no one solution to social media measurement, I find it a bit odd that we haven’t yet adopted some form of social media impressions. At this moment in time there is no practical way to measure what we really want (offline behavior or opinion), so why not at least use a metric which already makes sense to us?

Social media impressions could be calculated and used as a means of comparison for different campaigns and different brands. Heck, we could even compare traditional and social media impressions for the same campaign.

With no standard in place for social media, it would stand to reason that using a metric we (and the C-suite) already recognizes can only help our cause. I would imagine that showing your CMO an impressions number would go much farther than showing them how many Twitter followers you have.

Again, I would never suggest that we throw all other measurements out the window and focus solely on social media impressions. It just seems to make sense to add this to our virtual toolbox when it’s one metric that our boss can easily understand and relate to.

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  • Social media is absolutely important for a business to get the things going on track. Thanks for this information.

  • Chuck, I think you bring up a good point. The issue I see with social media impressions is that social at its purest is suppose to be intimate. It’s suppose to be about creating that relationship and ultimately growing it into one that involves both sides exchanging goods and services. In that nature, it’s not really about blasting your message out to hundreds and thousands of eyes and ears. On the traditional side, it’s a bit different. We want thousands and millions of impressions. We want a targeted blast to relevant (or often times, irrelevant) audiences. There’s little human interaction with those, so we push it out and sit back hoping they purchase our product. Social isn’t like that (although many companies feel it is). So you can come back and say my message reached 50,000 people, but did it have any impact on making my brand more human? Did it form a connection? This is why I think sponsored tweets are garbage and a waste of money. Just one man’s opinion, sir!

    • I completely agree that social is so very different, and using social media impressions does give the sense that it’s more like traditional. From where I sit, I have clients begging us every day for something they can use to compare social to the rest of the marketing mix. And while we try to give them as much context and metrics that show the TRUE value of social media (engagement, brand equity, etc.), at the end of the day, there are plenty of CMOs who just want to see a number that they can use to compare.

      I want to reiterate that I would never suggest that social media impressions should be the only measure given. Ever. But I think it could be a useful metric to add sometimes when a client needs it to make sense of their whole marketing efforts.

      • Absolutely. Don’t get me wrong, I think impressions do play a role. I just don’t think they play as big of role as they do on the traditional side.

        • Cassandra Brown

          This is an interesting conversation, and ironic since I mentioned in a separate post that we received 50,000 impressions through Twitter outreach recently. 😉 And I agree with both of you – measuring impressions may be counter-intuitive to what social media is really supposed to be, but at the end of the day how do you show value? For a small organization like mine, I think the impressions do offer some sense of increased brand awareness that is a great return on an investment for an hour or two of tweeting. It still doesn’t stand alone, I completely agree, but it is valuable in our case until the gods of free social measurement tools offer better alternatives!

  • Many times I end up convincing clients that brand awareness is the key – forget the number of followers/likes you have. If they aren’t interacting with you, and if you aren’t interacting with them, then you’re not understanding the point of social media. You can’t put numbers on human interaction and engagement.

    • I certainly try my best to do the same thing, and I always refuse to give just one number as measurement. Context is needed!

      There are a few clients who require something like a reach number to compare to their other marketing efforts, though. We always try to give them what they want while still guiding them toward more meaningful metrics.

  • Dhawley

    I agree, I defintely think that someday we will be able to make connections with online behavior and offline behavior. Before reading this I had no clue what social media impressions were but now that I understand I also agree that it would be a great idea to add this to our virtual toolbox.

    • I’m glad this was useful for you! It’s definitely not a common measurement, and I think there are reasons it shouldn’t be. But I think there is value, and it’s just a great tool to have!

  • Cassandra Brown

    I agree! After publicizing a recent press announcement on Twitter, I found that the best measurement we had was our overall number of impressions provided by TweetReach. As a nonprofit we don’t have any of the big gun measurement tools in house so this was the quickest and clearest set of data I could find, topping out at almost 50,000 impressions by 10am that day.

    Are there any other good and affordable tools out there to measure impressions?? Would love to hear your suggestions.

    • I have to say, I don’t think there is a tool out there yet which measures impressions. I think it can still be a manual process, but tools like TweetReach can be helpful. I do know that tools like Topsy and ConvoTrack help you find where your article or post may be mentioned on social sites to help you find a reach number.

      I hope that helps!