Way too often over the past 6 months, I have been in a brand’s boardroom discussing content marketing and performance, and had them share with us campaign reports from their external agencies, boasting the success of their latest campaign, which had garnered over “500,000 impressions!” It is complete bullshit. Here’s why.
What are impressions?
Impression started as a measurement unit sold by publishers and advertisers, calculated as a cost per thousand (CPM). As digital marketing evolved, so did impressions. They became a marketing metric used to evaluate the reach and performance of online content. As social media grew, so did the strength of impressions, which are now used to measure the reach of every single tweet, Instagram photo, Facebook video, etc.
The problem? On their own, impressions are bullshit.
Unfortunately, publishers, advertisers, and more disturbingly, agencies and PR firms, are selling unsuspecting brands impressions as if they were marketing gold.
Impressions are nothing more than a vanity metric.
At best, impressions are just one of the many vanity metrics a brand can look at when evaluating the success of a campaign. While these metrics can make a campaign look good on paper and may be a good indication of brand awareness, they certainly do not give enough information to accurately track performance or engagement.
Vanity metrics can include:
- page views
Brand Marketer: “Surely you don’t expect us to ignore impressions altogether!”
No, we don’t. Impressions are not necessarily a bad thing, but on their own they tell you nothing. 10,000 impressions, 295 likes, and 15 comments? Great. How many people actually clicked on the link? How many stayed on your site after the click? How many converted? Without providing the answers to these questions, all you were being sold is “great reach” to the tune of 10,000 impressions, 295 likes, and 15 comments.
In other words, you are being sold bullshit.
Brand Marketer: “What about video views? Those impressions prove they actually watched my video and learned about my product, right?”
Actually, no. According to Business Insider, the sad reality is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat all count a video view as three seconds. Three seconds! How much do you learn in three seconds? Each of those platforms charge for ads based on video views and worse, your PR firm is reporting on them to you with pride.
If your agency or pr firm presents only video views or highlights them as a major win for the campaign, you have to push for more. Three seconds is not even close to a full view, so you need to dig even deeper to prove the actual performance of a video.
Ask for substance with your content performance metrics.
Whether you use an external agency, a PR firm, or if you are managing your campaign in-house, you need to look at more than just impressions. If you’re using an external agency or firm, you need to demand more than just impressions. Technology exists to show so much more meaningful data.
Last year, we wrote about this issue in a blog post which explored what true content performance looks like. As mentioned in that post, smart URLs can be used to track engagement both on and off your site. Smart URLs provide a full timeline of the engagement received and can deliver deeper numbers on best performing content, channels, influencers, etc.
Using trackable links can provide detailed data when it is not available from a distribution platform (Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, influencer content, and more). Smart URLs can also be used to validate data from publisher sites who do provide you with deeper metrics (Facebook and other advertisers). Furthermore, smart URLs can be used to build conversion paths, so you know what route a user took after they clicked on your ad or content.
The golden time of impressions has passed.
This is 2017. At this stage in the game, there is absolutely no excuse for uninformed and shallow data. As digital marketers, we can’t hide behind a veil of ignorance. So much technology exists to tell us exactly what is happening with our brand online. We need to start asking to see those numbers every day and with every campaign, and start paying far less attention to the bullshit.