When thinking about your media spend on social advertising, that you want to maximize your dollars to get the best results. There are a two key metrics ways to measure results, and each has its own place for specific types of social media ad campaigns.

Measuring Engagement

A few years ago, we started hearing the phrase “return on engagement” in the marketing sphere. The point was, that while it was challenging (at the time) to measure precise return on investment, social media marketers could instead measure a return on the engagement they garnered on social media, in real time.  

And so marketers started paying attention to clicks, shares, and likes.

A photo on Instagram may not directly result in sales, but it builds brand recognition. The engagement is an indicator of how successful you are at creating visual content that resonates with your audience.

If you elect to run, for example, a Facebook ad campaign based on Cost Per Click, you will pay for each engagement you get (i.e. click to your site). Facebook has fabulous built-in analytics that tell you exactly what sort of return your Facebook ad is getting.  As long as the revenue from your social media campaign is greater than what you spend on the ad, all is golden. If it isn’t, we have a problem.

An ad like this one from Discover Card is likely based on clicks, not impressions. It’s got a clear call to action, which tells the viewer what benefits there are to clicking on the ad.

Who Should Use Engagement as a Measure

Engagement as a form of measuring social media advertising works best when you sell products online or can otherwise assign a value to the engagement. Impressions, as we’ll see in a moment, focus more on creating brand awareness, while engagement is a transactional form of measurement.

Engagement may not indicate a direct path to a sale, but it does tell you something interesting: that people are taking the time to absorb your social media content and make a note of it through one today’s social signals: a click, a share, or a like.

Measuring Impressions

The other primary way of determining whether a social media campaign is successful is by impressions. As I mentioned, impressions are great if you’re trying to brand your business and get it in front of more people.

Think about billboards. Magazine ads. Television commercials. It’s impossible to track a sale directly from these sources, and so their main purpose is to get in front of as many eyeballs as possible. A magazine reader who sees a high-end clothing brand advertised might see it again later in a store and decide to buy it. You can’t necessarily track that, so instead you focus on brand awareness.

Branded content is perfect for attracting social media impressions. It provides value for its audience, but it also doesn’t require any action to be taken other than seeing it. The second best-selling champagne brand worldwide, Veuve Clicquot, frequently posts appealing images of models enjoying its bubbly in geographically interesting locales. You can’t click to buy the bottle, so what’s the point?

Brand awareness.

Every time you see a post or an ad from Veuve Clicquot, you remember it. Later, when you’re selecting a bottle for a special event, I wonder which one you’ll consider first?

Who Should Use Impressions as a Measure

If you’re less concerned with viewers of your ad taking direct action, impressions are valuable in that they are a cost-affordable way to increase your visibility to a highly-targeted social audience.

The interesting thing about measuring by impressions is that typically engagement grows as your number of impressions increases, so you benefit from both.

How to Decide  

Before you can know whether impressions or engagement is a better measurement model for you, determine what your goal with your social media ad campaign is.

Do you want people to take action? Can they click to learn more or to buy? Sign up for your email address? Share with friends? These are all examples of when engagement works best.

Or do you want to elevate your brand visibility? Build a relationship with your audience? In that case, impressions may work for you.

You might elect to choose both methods and see which puts you in the better position. Nothing wrong with that at all. Just make sure you’re running just one campaign at a time to ensure untainted results.