Many spiritous and perplexing conversations have been had about the arcane art of reach vs. impressions. In media monitoring and tracking a campaign’s success, these usually begin (regardless of industry experience of those involved) something along these lines:
“What’s the total reach generated by this release?”
“Do you mean reach or impressions?”
“I’m not sure—what’s the difference?”
“Hang on, I’ll Google it.”
Superficially, it appears that the distinction should be apparent; an innate colloquial connection emerges when these questions are posed. We can't help but visualize a story extending its tendrils into the world, making a mark on those it touches, so what does the aforementioned search have to say?
Here’s a common pair of definitions one might find: Reach is the total number of people who see your content. Impressions are the number of times your content is displayed, no matter if it was clicked or not.
These industry concepts are used as measures of success for a campaign, offering valuable insights into the scope and impact of a campaign’s message. In brief, Reach quantifies the breadth of the audience a message touches, indicating its potential for influence. Impressions give an indication of the frequency with which that message resonates, demonstrating the depth of engagement.
This technicality is not necessarily a drawback. We’re used to words having different meanings in different contexts. Why all the confusion, then?
Here are some suggestions:
First, the natural association works against us in this case, since the common definitions seem to work just fine here—after all, media does indeed reach people and leaves impressions. These concepts intermingle, occasionally merging to become virtually interchangeable.
It’s abstracted further by the language we use; it’s not always just “reach” and “impressions” - it’s the reach and the impressions, conveying a sense of grandiosity that distances these terms from the tangible data they represent.
This is not entirely untrue; many systems for reporting and tracking cloak themselves in guarded formulas, as if they were the secret spices of a famous recipe. Adding to the confusion, these tools sometimes interchange “reach” and “impressions” without hesitation.
It's not solely about technology; even the parties involved in reporting might lack a unified understanding of these terms. Often, it takes a substantial amount of time to realize that discrepant definitions have been inadvertently employed.
In fact, it’s best practice just to assume that this is the case—and that in each reporting scenario the meanings of these terms (and all others, for that matter) are tailored to best suit the situation. As authoritative as some sources may be on the matter, the de facto reality is that there is no universal benchmark for reach and impressions.
In the current space of reporting platforms, engagement measurement has evolved beyond mere exposure, and now encapsulate an array of interactions in addition to passive views. Each handle this differently; while some meticulously track things such as likes, comments, shares, and clicks, others may consider more overarching metrics such as followers/friends as having more weight.
This data is tallied and calculated using proprietary formulas to quantify engagement rates, a percentage that reflects the proportion of the audience actively engaging with the content relative to its total reach. While this provides more nuance to reporting results, these different methods of calculation can also contribute to miscommunication when measuring a campaign’s overall impact.
As the media landscape remains highly mutable, new metrics and methodologies continually infiltrate concepts used by professionals, calling for preparedness when need arises to infuse artistry and contextual consideration into the science of media reporting. The importance of strategies goes beyond the metrics, with customers and clients paying increased attention to the authenticity of the story being told, creating a demand for reporting to reflect that.
Conversations with clients about reporting expectations are more than technical dialogues; they are bridges that connect your expertise with your clients' aspirations. Successfully navigating a landscape where technology often blurs the lines empowers you to illuminate the path forward, ensuring that the story you craft resonates deeply with both data and ambition.
If you need help building a strong media strategy, our team of Digital Communications experts can help you.