I hate to break the news to you, but your latest press release did NOT garner more views than Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair. But Meltwater thinks it did.

Any reader of Paine Publishing should know by now why impressions, especially inflated ones, are a terrible metric. For one, they make PR people look stupid. Secondly, they probably don’t do anything useful, third, they are misleading, If you need one more reason, people will make fun of you.

James Dator isn’t even a PR or measurement guy (although given his last name, he really should be one). He’s a sports writer who works on’s social team. One of his recent posts poked fun at the absurdity of the claim by Washington’s NFL team that 58 million unique individuals actually clicked on a random story on their website.

Imagine if you somehow got every single human who lives in New York, Beijing, and San Paolo to simultaneously click on your website. Largest-Cities-of-the-world That would be 58 million. Put another way that number is higher than Vanity Fair’s traffic the day after its Caitlyn Jenner exclusive. For this story?  Really?

What’s even more incomprehensible is the explanation from Meltwater, from whence the number came. Their spokesperson Riana Dadlani, Corporate Communications Expert, tried ineffectually to define impressions as: “anytime a person is exposed to a news story about the event.”  — Sorry, Riana, but exposure and impressions are not the same thing. Potential exposure maybe, based on a lot of wishful thinking.

But wait, it gets worse. Turns out that the team is assuming that every single one of its 1.8 million Facebook fans and all 452,000 Twitter followers also read the story. Even Facebook’s CMO, in his speech to the PRSA International Conference, admitted that less than 3% of what is on Facebook is actually read. And then it got even worse…

In a further attempt to hype its great PR in a time when most news outlets won’t even mention the name of the team, Waheadlineshington’s NFL team issued yet another statement that boasted that essentially everyone on the planet had seen the riveting news from their training camp. Spokesperson Dadlani explains it thus: “This seems to be a mix of 2 metrics we use: unique visitors and impressions. The correct description and definition of the number in question should have been: 7,845,460,401 impressions of print/online coverage of the 2014 Bon Secours  Training Camp from July 24-Aug. 12.” As Dator correctly points out, that is more than the population of the planet.

The correct explanation is that the reach numbers are provided by ComScore and then Meltwater multiplies that number by however many stories appear in that media outlet or on that website.  So 8 posts that appeared for a minute each on (which ComScore says gets 120 million unique impressions) would generate a billion impressions. But one potential view of a post does not mean that anyone is going to read it, never mind be aware of that content.

Just ask yourself: How many sites do you glance at a day and how much of the content do you remember an hour later?  Less than 1%, 3%?  I certainly can’t remember. And, that’s the problem, we have no way of knowing whether it’s .01% or 10%. Which is just one more reason why counting impressions is a really bad idea.

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