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Social Media // March 30th, 2020

Engagement vs Impressions: What’s Best

Written by Lauren Arendt   

There are countless metrics and objectives to consider when determining what success looks like for a social media marketing strategy, and there is no “one size fits all” answer. Two metrics that get a lot of attention within the digital marketing community are engagement and impressions. Should you focus on generating buzz around content, or get as many eyeballs as possible on the content? In this blog, we are going to break down what exactly each of these metrics measure, as well as which marketing goals these metrics best support.

What is Social Media Engagement?

Engagements are interactions a user has with a piece of social media content, including liking, commenting, sharing, saving and retweeting. These interactions show markers that the user was actively involved with the content and did not passively scroll passed it.

Engagement is a unique metric, as it is strictly earned; no matter how much money a digital marketing professional pours into a social media post or ad, if the content does not resonate with the audience, engagement will remain at a minimum.

To compare engagement across multiple pieces of social media content, calculate a rate: post interactions divided by the number of people who viewed the post (or reach). This allows an apple-to-apple comparison when determining content success, despite how many people saw the post.

When Should Marketers Look to Engagement?

1. To attract a community of qualified prospects

Your digital marketing strategy should not be like taking shots in the dark in hopes that your marketing messages find the right people. Rather, by using engagement, marketers can measure whether content is speaking to the right people, at the right time, using the right medium. When marketers see a low amount of engagement on certain content, they can take that learning to inform future content designed to attract the right people and build a community of highly qualified and attentive prospects.

2. To build social proof for prospective buyers or retailors

Social media works similarly to Google for many consumers in the consideration phase researching a purchase decision. They vet-out brands by visiting their website, and now, their social media channels. When they visit these channels, seeing an active, involved community is like reading a positive online review. The same goals for retailors vetting out new brands; the more social media activity they see (especially in comparison to competitors), the more demand they perceive. Focus on building engagement to assure prospects that you can deliver on brand promises and are qualified to do so.

3. To maintain a community of loyal customers

Acquiring new customers can get very costly; however, maintaining customers doesn’t have to break the bank when leveraging social media engagement. Crafting content of value builds a strong community of customers who engage with a brand over and over again—or who will be reminded to buy over and over again. Re-engaging customers is a low-cost, impactful way to build brand loyalty.

4. To build a community of brand advocates

When a consumer routinely engages with a brand’s marketing messages and becomes a loyal customer, they are more likely to advocate for that brand. When customers share information about a brand online or in-person with their networks, they are helping with fan acquisition at no extra cost to you. Sharing, retweeting and tagging friends in content are all engagement metrics available to track this advocacy; however, strong engagement with a brand’s social channels from a customer in general is a strong predictor that the customer will recommend that brand to friends or family.

What Are Impressions?

Every time someone sees a piece of content, one impression is tracked on that content. Standalone impressions do not guarantee any active involvement from the consumer.

Unlike engagement, impressions can be bought using social media advertising; however, can also be earned. High engagement on a post oftentimes works to increase impressions due to post sharing and generally becoming favored in the algorithms. Impressions without engagement, however, do not necessarily mean that consumers resonated with the content or message.

When Should Marketers Look to Impressions?

1. To create top-of-funnel brand awareness

Digital marketing professionals should look to impressions to generate top-level awareness for their product or brand message. No action should necessarily be sought after or required other than being remembered down the line when they are confronted with the consideration and decision phases. Content and campaigns geared at introducing a product or brand for the very first time may benefit from maximizing impressions.

2. When frequency is important

If a digital marketing professional needs a message to sink in with a specific target audience, optimizing for impressions can be effective. Especially when an audience is defined, maximizing impressions oftentimes leads to an increase in frequency, or the same people receiving the message multiple times. Increasing touch points with an audience makes them much more likely to walk away with memory or knowledge of the brand.

3. You are more focused on social media advertising than organic content

Advertising is oftentimes the best place to focus on generating impressions, since investing more budget will nearly always lead to success. Organic content is a great place to nurture prospects into customers; but not as great for racking up as many impressions as possible since so many external factors come into play. On the other hand, marketers can optimize social media advertising campaigns for impressions and more effectively segment their marketing mix to meet prospects where they are in their journey toward conversion.

So, is Engagement or Impressions More Important?

It depends on your goals!

Focusing on impressions is effective for creating vast product or brand awareness, but focusing on engagement is oftentimes necessary to stand a part from competitors and attract the most qualified leads possible. The two objectives work hand-in-hand to support a complete customer journey.

When digital marketing professionals are first introducing a product or brand to consumers, focusing on impressions can be impactful for generating top-level awareness. This first introduction to the brand warms them up for the next phase of the customer journey. Consumer engagement with a brand is strong predicator for a future purchase. Nurture prospective customers with tailored content to give them the information they need to make a purchase, and provide them with a community to engage with again and again.

Another consideration is whether you plan to use social media advertising or organic content marketing. We do not recommend selecting impressions as your number one goal for organic content marketing, as organic content is much better suited for capturing leads in the consideration, decision and loyalty phases of the customer journey where engagement with the customer is essential. Rather, leverage social media advertising to generate awareness and max out on impressions.