Social Metrics Defined: Engagement & Reach

Although PR professionals are gaining competency in social media metrics and measurements, our efforts can be hampered by unclear terminology.

Two of the most confusing words in metrics terminology have got to be engagement and reach. They can mean different things across social platforms and again to different users.

Yes, we may be word-nerds at heart, but PR practitioners have a valid need for concrete definitions to ensure they are collecting correct and complete data.    

With help from the Media Rating Council (MRC), who recently issued a set of Social Media Measurement Guidelines to help communicators accurately collect data, we explain below what engagement and reach truly mean and how they can be measured.

Engagement is all about how audiences interact with you. This sounds easy, but it’s not. The MRC breaks engagement down into three key categories: interaction, content re-distribution and advocacy and influence.

Interactions can be tracked internally through clicks, conversions, downloads and saves, or publicly through a variety of metrics, such as:

  • +1s
  • Check-in’s
  • Likes
  • Comments
  • Hearts
  • Hashtags
  • Mentions
  • Posts
  • Pins
  • Replies
  • Subscribes
  • Tagging, etc.

Content re-distribution is much more public than interactions as it requires an individual user to intentionally and directly re-distribute or promote your content to a set of users. Metrics used to measure content re-distribution include:

  • Emailing
  • Embeds
  • Linking
  • Mentions
  • Re-blogs
  • Re-pins
  • Re-tweets
  • Shares
  • Tagging

Advocacy and influence are arguably the hardest engagement metrics to measure, simply because they garner a lot of subjectivity. You need to know who is influential in order to understand what brand authority you already have. Need some help with that? Start here. You can evaluate advocacy and influence with metrics such as:

  • Intent: have they declared their call-to-action? Will they buy your product/service?
  • Opinion
  • Semantics
  • Sentiment


There’s a lot of ambiguity around measuring reach.

As per the MRC, reach is defined as the “total unique count of users exposed to organic (unpaid) content or advertising.” In other words, reach counts the actual amount of people exposed to your coverage. This differs from similar terms like impressions, which look at the amount of opportunities your content has at being viewed by a user.

Reach can be further expanded into the following categories:

  • Organic: users exposed to your content in its original, unpaid format
  • Paid: users exposed to your paid content it its original format (e.g. sponsored ad)
  • Earned: users exposed to your content (paid & unpaid) in a re-distributed format (e.g., re-tweets, shared, re-blogged, etc.)

So how can you measure reach? Buffer recommends a variety of metrics, including:

  • Brand Awareness: how many mentions does your brand receive online over a week? Month? Year?
  • Fans/Followers
  • Views/Impressions
  • Keyword Frequency: how many times has your product been mentioned online

Before your data truly reflects your PR and marketing efforts, we need to understand what we’re measuring and why.

How do you define engagement and reach? Tell us in the comments below, or tweet us @CNWGroup.

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