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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