When it comes to social marketing, brands should start thinking about the types of interactions that are hard to capture with traditional metrics.

Engagement is generally considered the best way to track the success of social marketing campaigns, but what if that notion is wrong? Twitter is experimenting with new types of data that might show brands a more nuanced snapshot of their social campaigns.

According to the Twitter media blog, some users now have access to a greater spread of metrics. Advertising partners’ accounts, verified users and Twitter Card publishers can now see a breakdown of the number of impressions their Tweets receive, either in aggregate or specific to individual Tweets. But what exactly is an impression, and is it a useful measure of social strategies?

If a Tweet falls in the woods and no one hears it…

…was it ever posted? To understand impressions, it’s helpful to think about how brands interact with Twitter accounts. Research firm Mention examined how customers talk about brands online.

It found that about a third (31 percent) of Tweets that reference a business don’t include a handle, which means that conversations about their products and services could be flying under the radar. When a company name appears in a Tweet, only 9 percent start with an ‘@’ symbol, and that number doesn’t account for whether the Twitter handle name is right.

So there may be numerous conversations taking place about brands that they’ll never find out about. Those are missed opportunities to join and direct conversations with users. Twitter won’t notify a company when its name is dropped into posts without an @mention, meaning there won’t be a data trail or a registry of these social interactions.

Taking social interactions to the next level

Impressions work on a similar principle. Plenty of people see Tweets in their feeds, embedded in blogs or even shared on other networks like without giving them any kind of click. They might love the content they see, and it’s even possible what they saw moved them just a hair closer to making a purchase, but it’s hard for brands to quantify and measure. Traditional engagement metrics, such as Retweets and Favorites, don’t capture this level of awareness-building – but impressions do. Social marketing campaigns should account for  the types of behavior that don’t leave a tangible mark, but do leave some small immeasurable impact. 

Alex Butzbach is a Marketing Writer at Brafton. He studied Communications at Boston College, and after a brief stint teaching English in Japan, he entered the world of content marketing. When he isn't writing and researching, he can be found on a bike somewhere in Metro Boston.