Not sure how to calculate impressions? If impressions matter more than reach? Read this post to learn all about impressions and other marketing metrics.
Understanding what impressions are and how to calculate them is critical in creating successful social media and content marketing strategies. Impressions can give marketing teams an array of insights into how users engage (or don’t engage) with content.
That’s great, but I bet you’re wondering if this article is going to give you a clear answer on what impressions are and how to calculate them. And I’m telling you now that it will.
I hope that gif sums up your mood right now (hope you enjoyed that pun, too). Now, without further delay let’s get down to it.
What are impressions?
Impressions are displays of a piece of content. To elaborate, impressions are the number of times that specific content shows up on users’ screens.
Notice how I didn’t define impressions as views. This is because, based on my own experience using social media, I know that we don’t see everything that shows up on our screens. Lots of stuff gets lost in the scroll.
So it’s better to think of impressions = displays.
On social media, these displays could be on your Instagram feed, your Facebook home, or your TikTok for You Page. Outside social media, impressions could be page views of a blog post, the times an ad appears on a search engine result page, or the times an ad is played during a podcast.
With respect to social media, impressions don’t have anything to do with who you follow. Take your Instagram Explore page for instance. Most of those accounts are ones you don’t follow, but the impressions count the same.
How to calculate impressions
You can capture social media impressions in a few different ways:
- Use the network’s insights feature to measure impressions of your content.
- Use a third-party platform to measure impressions via social media monitoring.
- Ask influencers for their insights to measure the impressions they got on branded content as part of your campaign.
Now, when you want to calculate impressions on content that you paid for (like influencer content), there’s a formula we can use: CPM.
CPM stands for cost per mille. My Spanish or French speakers out there might intuit that mille is the Latin word for thousand. So CPM measures the cost per 1,000 impressions. The formula is set up this way because if we measured the cost per individual impression, we’d usually end up working with numbers so small they become difficult to manage.
This is the formula for CPM:
- Add up your total spend. This includes any ad spend, influencer fees, or whatever else you paid for the content whose impressions you’re calculating.
- Divide that sum by the number of impressions. You will have measured this number using one of the methods mentioned above (i.e. using social media insights or asking an influencer for them).
- Multiply the result by 1,000. This shows you your CPM for that content.
You can also calculate CPM for estimated impressions. This can give you an idea of what to expect from the content in question. Later when real results come in, you can calculate the actual CPM and compare: did your content perform better or worse than expected?
An example of how to calculate impressions
Let’s run through an example to make this more real. Pretend you’re an influencer marketing specialist who needs to calculate the impressions on a recent Instagram post.
Your team worked with a micro-influencer to promote your brand on IG. They have 30,000 followers and based on historical data, you estimate that the content they post will get around 10,000 impressions from followers and non-followers. You’ve paid the influencer $150 for the post and gifted them a product worth $50.
So if we divide $200 (total spend, fee + product) by 10,000 (impressions), we get 0.02666. Multiply this by 1,000 to get a $20 CPM.
Then your campaign goes live. The influencer loves your product, and in addition to the post, they upload a few stories. This leads to 20,000 impressions. If we calculate again, we divide 200 by 20,000 to get 0.01 and multiply that to get a $10 CPM.
In this case, you’ve exceeded your impressions expectations and achieved a lower CPM than what you’d anticipated. Go example marketing specialist!
Why impressions are important in social media marketing
Now that you know how to calculate impressions, let’s ask: why calculate impressions? Impressions matter to marketing teams for various reasons. Here are a few key ones.
Planning your content strategy
Impressions help give you an idea of how to optimize your content marketing. When starting a new content strategy, it’s a good idea to try posting on different days of the week and at different times. Then, compare and see which day and time leads to the most impressions.
You can also use impressions to gauge which type of content works best for your brand. Take Instagram for example. Most people say that Reels are the best way to get the most impressions and engagement. Is this true for your brand too? Try posting various content formats to track which performs best.
Deciding which channel to post on
Impressions can help you better define your target audience and the appropriate channels to reach them. If you publish content to various social media channels, you can compare impressions to see which channel is getting you the most exposure.
In most cases, statistics can help you decide which channel to post on. If you want to target Get Z, hit TikTok. If you want to hook millennials, go Instagram. But don’t just take this for granted. Follow up and check that your hypothesis is true so that you can best connect with your target audience.
Analyzing target audiences
Speaking of target audiences, impressions are one metric that can help you further define yours. Influencers are particularly useful here, as they can help connect you to specific audiences.
For example, if you’re branching into new geographical markets, try working with influencers from each of those places. How many impressions does each get? And what do those impressions turn into—are people interested in learning more about your products?
You can do this for different content niches, too. For example, a food company might want to try working with influencers who connect them to clean eating, vegan, and slow food niches. See which yields the most impressions of your content combined with clicks, sales, or whatever metric measures your goal conversion.
Other social media metrics to be aware of
Real quick, let’s run through a few other metrics you should consider alongside impressions when working on social media campaigns.
Reach is the total number of people your content can reach. This is determined using impressions. Looking at the follower count isn’t enough here. We’ve seen how sometimes your content reaches people who don’t follow you.
So alongside follower count, look at your average impressions. This will give you a more accurate sense of how many people your content can reach. Keep in mind that your reach will vary for each social network due to your follower count and the network’s algorithm!
Engagement measures how invested people are in your content. You calculate engagement rate like this:
Keep in mind that interactions mean something slightly different on each channel, but usually, they’re likes and comments.
Audience growth rate
Another good metric to understand, especially when working with influencers, is audience growth rate. This shows you how an influencer’s following has grown over time.
You can get this data by asking the influencer, or by using an influencer discovery tool to check metrics as you search for influencers.
Here look for slow but steady growth, which almost always means the influencer grew their audience organically thanks to good content and hard work. Sharp spikes in growth can show us that an influencer potentially bought a big batch of fake followers.
At the beginning of the article I told you that I’d define impressions and show you how to calculate them. We’ve learned that, and more:
- Impressions are displays.
- CPM is the formula for calculating impressions.
- Impressions are useful to marketing teams for planning content strategies, deciding which channels to use, and analyzing target audiences.
- A few other social media metrics to keep in mind are reach, engagement, and growth.
Now you’re ready to whip out that calculator and get busy calculating your impressions on social media.