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Using Impressions as a Success Metric

Before getting into my thoughts on whether or not media impressions are a useless success metric, this post was inspired by Rob Clark’s post over on Dave Fleet’s blog on whether or not “share of voice” is a useless PR metric.

One thing that has struck me lately is the reliance on “media impressions” as a measure of success in PR campaigns.

For those that don’t know what media impressions are, they are the number of people who MAY have seen an article, heard something on the radio, saw it on TV or read it on a website or blog. The impressions are simply the media outlet’s circulation, viewership, listenership or readership number. That means that if your PR team reports that a specific article had 8.2 million impressions, that article MAY have been seen by 8.2 million people if 100% of all readers read that article on that day. It doesn’t take into account if someone doesn’t read the article for any variety of reasons. So, when you report that a launch was a success based on the media impressions, you’re basing your measure of success on a number that has a built in unknown error rate.

Additionally, what affect on the bottom line do media impressions have? Sure, we can agree that media impressions equal brand awareness because at least some portion of that readership will read the article about you and the more articles they read about you and the more that your brand is in front of them, the more likelihood your company is to remain top-of-mind in their time of need. Before you take out the daggers, I believe brand awareness is very much needed within companies. But, how are you measuring that brand awareness back into actual dollars?

Let’s translate this into a tangible example: If 2,000 cars drive by my restaurant on a daily basis and therefore I have a pretty sign with our logo and general information on it and not a single one of the people in those 2,000 cars ever comes into the restaurant, where does that leave me? I can’t go to the bank and tell them that I get approximately 2,000 impressions per day. That’s not going to pay back the loan. That’s not going to pay the servers. What pays this overhead are people sitting down and ordering a meal.

This debate is similar to the number of followers one has on Twitter. How many people actually read your tweets? Of that number how many actually take action from one of your tweets? How about on your Facebook Page. Facebook now reports the number of impressions per update on a Page. Does that mean anything? What does 8,589 impressions on a Facebook status update *really* mean? How does that track back to your sales pipeline?

You can see the trend here. We report success based on impressions, whether they’re media impressions, Twitter followers, RSS subscribers or Facebook likes. We rely on a number of people that MAY have seen our content as opposed to the actual number of people that did read it, the number of people who took action and the number of people that bought.

When I’ve brought this question up to colleagues and friends, they all agree that these may not be the best metrics but it’s better than nothing so we standardize our reporting to determine success on the number of impressions that we may receive. I do think it’s an important metric but it can’t be the end-all, be-all, let’s go grab beers and celebrate our success-type of metric. It should be ONE part of your reporting, not your whole report.

What are your thoughts? Maybe more seasoned PR professional will have a different view and I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic. Are media impressions a useless metric?

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Photo Credit: m.eckelberg

  • Matt Medeiros

    I think it’s just that, better than nothing. 

    I think there’s good bang for your buck on impression based Facebook ads vs the paid per click. What do you think of Facebook as one of your streams?

  • Matt Moss

    Great post, and could not agree more Justin. Impressions seem to be a vague idea of how many people are viewing your message. I think the more important thing to consider is, of those 8,000 impressions you had on a post, tweet, etc. how many people really gave a crap what you had to say? In my opinion, it will always come down to the content. 

  • Kristin Taylor

    Totally agree.  It’s like McDonald’s “Billions and Billions served”.  Served what exactly? ; )

  • Suzanne Vara


    Great article supported by some hard examples. I do not want to go so far as to say that the media impressions are useless as there is something that we can extract and learn when we relate it back to the content/advertising. Take your restaurant, you may get 2K people to drive by and none come in and say whoa, those media impressions mean nothing. Maybe they were all vegans or the restaurant was passed on their way to a parade where they were in shorts and t-shirts and the restaurant is slacks and a collared shirt. We can look at the media impressions and toss them to the side or we can look at what factors influenced them.

    In radio, newspaper, tv, etc advertising there had to be a number assigned for reach to justify the cost. People hear big numbers of reach and forget that they are paying big numbers for the buy and then add in frequency and it gets all mushy. The end justifying the means.  I do not think that media impressions alone are a metric to gauge your success or lack thereof. It is a measure to consider but not to bank on.

    Always some great stuff here Justin!