The Difference Between Reach and Impressions and 7 More Social Media Questions Answered

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Social is a necessity for any brand looking to set up even the most basic of marketing strategies, but despite its place atop the marketing landscape, there are still many misconceptions about social. Those who’ve used it effectively know the impact that social can have, understand the nuances, and know what “works.” They also spend a lot of time answering some of the same questions, like “What’s the difference between reach and impressions?” To help both social leaders and the marketers who aren’t quite as familiar with social, we’ve gone back to the basics – answering that question and 7 more below.

1. What’s the difference between reach and impressions?
2. What’s a Facebook pixel?
3. If we have a million fans, why did only 10,000 people see this post?
4. Why do you need a budget for social ads?
5. Why can’t you use a TV ad for social?
6. How did that campaign or post perform?
7. Which channels should we be on?
8. Shouldn’t we focus on driving likes and engagements?

What’s the difference between reach and impressions?

Reach and impressions are two factors used to measure the exposure of a social ad or post. Reach indicates how many individual people specifically saw the post. Impressions counts how many total times it appeared in front of a person. Put simply, each post can only reach one person once, but you can generate multiple impressions from that same person. These two metrics are used to measure two different scenarios (number of people vs. number of times seen).

With an organic post, Facebook’s algorithms are unlikely to show a post to the same person multiple times, so the reach and impressions numbers are often very similar (although rarely exactly the same). If you’re running an ad campaign, however, the same ad could be shown to an audience more than once, or you may choose to show them a sequence of ads within a campaign. In those cases, it is important to be able to distinguish between reach (number of individuals who saw the ad) and impressions (number of times the ad was seen).

Within the reach metric there are also two different ways to look at and report unique reach. Within a single social ad campaign, you may be targeting multiple audiences. If you try to get a total by combining the unique reach of each individual audience, there can be overlap across groups that will count the same user twice. If you look at the unique reach of the overall campaign, on the other hand, you will have the accurate total number of unique individuals reached – without any overlap. If you want a high-level view of how many total unique people saw any of your ads, your best bet is to look at the campaign level.

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What’s a Facebook pixel?

Facebook pixels are used to track user behavior on websites. Depending on how advanced the site and pixel setup is, brands can collect audiences that have visited or taken different actions on the website. These actions can include clicking on a specific landing page, signing up for something, adding a product to cart, adding payment info, purchasing, etc.

To do this, a section of code is added on the website’s backend to track every time someone comes to the site, and snippets of code are added to track relevant actions taken. Advertisers are then able to take those audiences and retarget the users on Facebook with more direct, conversion-focused messaging, since the users already expressed interest in the brand. Messaging can even be made more relevant by personalizing it based on the specific action the person took.

Implementing a Facebook pixel also allows advertisers to measure the performance of Facebook campaigns by tying them back to the number of actions that are made on site. For example, you might have promotional campaigns running for 50% off sale items. By running conversion campaigns and installing a Facebook pixel on your site that tracks purchases, you are set up to know how your campaigns, audiences, and ads are performing in terms of cost per purchase, cost per add to cart, return on ad spend, etc.

The Facebook pixel gives advertisers the power to serve more personalized messages to users that have indicated interest via the brand’s website. The pixel also enables advertisers to measure cost per acquisition and ROI. Using the pixel, you can tie back the cost per purchase to all of your campaigns, allowing you to collect insights and data and apply the learnings to other channels.

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If we have a million fans, why did only 10,000 people see this post?

Simply put, you can’t publish a post and expect every single person that follows your brand to see that post. Only a small percentage of followers will see each post, typically less than 1-3% (more if the post has a high “virality,” or likelihood to be shared). This metric is the percent reached, which is measured by dividing the total reach by the number of page followers, then multiplying by 100.

The best way to increase the number of people who see your brand’s post is to add paid promotion to it. Organic posts, or posts that do not have any budget spent on promotion, are much less likely to show up in front of customers. They will reach only a small percentage of your page’s followers, typically those who have already clicked and engage with past posts, and will not necessarily reach anyone who is qualified (able, interested, and ready to convert). Facebook’s algorithm is currently geared more toward showing users personal content, such as friends’ photos or posts in private groups, the exceptions are paid ads.

If you want more users to see your posts, you’ll need to add paid support and target the posts to appear in front of the right people. Once you add budget, you can pick and choose who sees the post based on customer interests, behaviors, demographics, and more.

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Why do you need a budget for social ads?

First it’s important to get a big misconception out of the way: Social media is not free. Although you can post to a social platform without spending a dime, you won’t drive any business goals or even see much success from an awareness standpoint without proper investment and strategy.

A dedicated budget for social advertising will allow you to look across all of your different marketing campaigns and business goals to create tactics that support each business goal. Budgeting for social as part of the big-picture marketing strategy also lets you prepare ahead of time for heightened spend around holidays, sales, and peak seasons.

When executing on a planned budget, you can determine when posts appear, for how long they’ll run, how much will be spent per day, etc. for both always-on and incremental campaigns. Having that starting point gives social advertising a clear direction, so there’s no better way to begin than with a budget.

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Why can’t you use a TV ad for social?

While it may make sense from a resources standpoint to reuse one piece of creative for multiple channels, it likely won’t be successful. An ad on TV is very different from an ad on social. On social, you’re trying to gain the attention of your consumers right away. On TV, your audience is more likely to watch the full commercial, so capturing attention in the first few seconds isn’t as crucial.

On social, users are exposed to a surplus of content in their feeds, and ads need something to hook them in. Even with a hook, the inherent “scrolling” behavior of social means a user is unlikely to stay with your ad for more than a few seconds. Social ads should be 15 seconds at the most, or ideally even shorter. We worked with Facebook and Champs Sports to test the ideal video length on the platform, and found that 6-second ads delivered an 11% increase in ad recall, 12% increase in return on ad spend, and 271% increase in video completion rate over 30-second ads.

Unlike TV ads, it’s crucial that social ads get right to the point, front-loading branding and any key messaging in the first few seconds. You can’t afford to spend precious moments on exposition that’s building to the point at the 20-second mark. If you treat social the same way you treat TV, or try to reuse the same creative on both, you’ll lose user attention fast.

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How did that campaign or post perform?

When evaluating campaign performance, there are several considerations to keep in mind. First and foremost, you need to understand the KPIs (key performance indicators) and the ultimate business goals. Are you looking to drive high reach and low CPMs? Link clicks and low CPCs? Or purchases with low costs and a high return on ad spend (ROAS)? It’s important to identify one primary KPI per campaign so that you can fully optimize toward that goal.

Once the most important KPI is confirmed, identify benchmarks or historical data to compare performance to. Ask yourself: Is the campaign hitting those benchmarks or getting close to them? Is performance higher or lower than anticipated? At that point, you can analyze whether you’re getting efficient performance and determine why you may or may not be, and how to improve it. There are three different factors to look at when evaluating performance and looking for areas to optimize:

Targeting: The audiences ads are being served to. The selected ages, genders, locations, interests, behaviors, etc.

How to evaluate targeting performance:

– Are certain target audiences performing better than others for your primary KPI? Are those best-performing audiences also the most qualified, or are they just the most efficient (low-hanging fruit)? Is there a niche target that might be more qualified, even if performance isn’t initially as strong?

– Often, analysis isn’t completely black and white. All these factors need to be taken into consideration when looking at overall performance.

– A niche, qualified audience might drive good performance but be harder to scale because it’s too small. In which case, it wouldn’t be spending all of its budget. Here you’ll want to add relevant behaviors or interests to broaden the target so that it can reach its budget and you can see the audience’s full potential.

– Are you using exclusions to help narrow the target audience group to the customers you’re trying to reach? Should there be? If you want brand new customers, for example, you should exclude existing ones.

Placement: Where the ad is showing up. Placement examples include: the Facebook and Instagram news feeds, Messenger, Stories, and Facebook Audience Network. The placement selection is very important, and should be chosen based on what makes the most sense for your ads.

How to evaluate placement performance: 

– Do you have automatic placements turned on? You may want to narrow down where you think your audience truly is, while also assessing performance across the different placement options. Keep those that are driving efficiencies, but don’t forget that more expensive results can also be more qualified.

Creative: What the ad says and what it looks like. Compelling headlines, descriptions, images, and videos are all imperative to performance.

How to evaluate creative performance:

– Is there a specific ad that’s performing best across all target audiences? Are certain ads performing best within certain audiences? One group may respond better to certain creative than another, so be sure to evaluate creative not just at a high level, but also at each audience level, to distill patterns.

– Adjust your creative throughout the campaign, turning off your worst-performing ads and rotating in creative iterations that are similar to the top performers. This report will help you determine the best times to refresh your creative at each stage of the campaign.

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Which channels should we be on?

There is no doubt that brands need to be present on social media. GWI reports that “more than a third of internet users say they follow their favorite brands on social media, while 1 in 4 follow brands that they are thinking of making a purchase from.” Although it’s imperative, it can also be tricky to know exactly which platforms will be best for your brand. That’s made even more complicated by the sheer volume of platforms dominating, and regularly entering, the digital ecosystem.

The best way to decide where to start is with the channels that are the best natural fit for your brand. Often those are the platforms where your target audience already spends the most time. Once you know where your audience is, you should have a better idea of where your brand needs to be. LinkedIn, for example, is primarily used for professional reasons, and so you wouldn’t want to use it for audiences under the age of 21. Snapchat, on the other hand, tends to skew younger. According to Pew Research Center, “There are substantial age-related differences in platform use. This is especially true of Instagram and Snapchat, which are used by 67% and 62% of 18 to 29-year-olds, respectively.”

Facebook and YouTube, on the other hand, have high usage across a wide range of ages. According to GWI, “Facebook and YouTube can boast a cross-age appeal… with nearly 7 in 10 internet users of all age groups visiting or using these platforms each month.” When in doubt, go where the people are.

Another good consideration to think about is what you are trying to promote. If you have tangible products that you’re trying to sell to consumers, Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram are good choices thanks to their very visual ad offerings. If your brand is in the B2B space, LinkedIn is the most natural fit for advertising, because their platform allows you to search by industry, job title, and more. It also has the best support for ongoing business relationships.

When it comes to new platforms, there’s no harm in waiting a moment. Before you jump in and dedicate valuable resources to an untested platform, make sure you have a strategy in place. Don’t just choose a new platform because it’s buzzy – instead make sure there’s a real opportunity for your brand to achieve its business goals on the platform. Many a brand profile lays dormant on Ello, Google Wave, and Meerkat, reminding us all of the resources spent chasing that next big thing. If there’s no clear opportunity but you still want to try the new platform, make sure you have a clear testing strategy in place to determine whether it’s a fit for your brand and audience long-term.

Once you determine the social channels that best suit your offering and your target demographic, you should be able to narrow down the selection from an overwhelming amount of choices to the few that make the most sense for your brand.

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Shouldn’t we focus on driving likes and engagements?

Not necessarily. Engagement is meaningful in its own way, because it shows when users are making connections with your brand, but other metrics are much more important when it comes to measuring performance and real impact. Reach, for example, is one of the most important metrics for measuring awareness. Having more people see your brand will increase brand awareness and fuel your marketing funnel with more people who can ultimately be driven to convert.

While engagements aren’t invaluable, it’s more important to measure and optimize toward reach, website traffic, and conversions as part of your social strategy. People don’t necessarily need to engage with a brand to notice it or be interested in it. According to Facebook, “Industry research has repeatedly shown that engagement rates do not correlate with the outcomes ultimately used to judge the success of your marketing efforts.” In other words, those who like aren’t necessarily those who buy. Learn more about how to drive performance with a full-funnel strategy.

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