The Facebook Analytics Problem Explained and Paid Social Strategy Looking Forward
Facebook marketing is the biggest paid social marketing platform in the world. With millions of businesses depending on it for their audience development strategy, it’s crucial to get accurate analytics stats.
Unfortunately, a number of issues have plagued Facebook’s native metrics dashboard over the last few months. Here’s what’s up and what it means for digital marketers going forward.
Sept. 2016: Video View Times Were Inflated
Facebook introduced video ads to great fanfare about two years ago. Along with video ads, the social media giant introduced an admin dashboard widget with a metric called “Average Duration of Video Viewed.” Because of the way Facebook counted views, that duration ended up inflated — by as much as 60–80%. That’s because Facebook began by factoring in only video view times of three seconds or more. It didn’t count when users paused momentarily to watch one of the network’s auto playing videos for less than three seconds before moving on.
The Wall Street Journal broke the story a few weeks later as big advertisers remained upset over the handling of the error. At first, the tech firm had only published a note on its advertiser help center page, noting the problem and announcing a fix.
French-based advertising giant Publicis had bought $77 million worth of ads in 2015 on behalf of its worldwide clients. While Facebook insisted the error didn’t impact billing for advertisers, it’s likely the error impacted some ad buyers’ decision to spend on Facebook over other platforms because of the perceived reach.
Nov. 2016: More Page Insights Miscalculations Revealed
The video metric error appeared to spur an internal review by Facebook and in November, the company announced that it was making a long-term investment on metrics “to give our partners and the industry more clarity and confidence about the insights we provide.”
The first installment of Facebook’s “Metrics FYI” blog post started off strong, promising the ability to verify display impression data through third-party partners, such as Moat, IAS, and comScore. The tech firm also announced a partnership with Nielsen to include Facebook video and Facebook Live viewership in Nielsen’s Digital Content Ratings (DCR).
However, the company also revealed a series of new metrics bugs it had found caused more inflated analytics. In Page Insights, weekly and monthly summaries calculated reach without accounting for or acknowledging repeat visitors. This reportedly led to a 33% inflation for the 7-day summary and 55% for the 28-day summary. According to Facebook, the problem didn’t affect paid reach.
Instant Articles were also revealed to have an over-reporting of time spent by 7–8%. The problem there was “calculating the average across a histogram of time spent, instead of reflecting the total time spent reading an article divided by its total views.”
Another miscalculation came for the Referrals metric. Facebook admitted it intended to count clicks that took Facebook users directly to an advertiser’s app or website. But the tool also counted other clicks on such posts, including clicks to view photos or video via the app or website. Facebook estimated this caused the Referral metric to be inflated by 6%.
Dec. 2016: More Metrics Changes
Facebook had more to say the next month on its Metrics blog, though this one didn’t include any earth-shattering bug announcements. The biggest item for advertisers was a promise to improve the estimated reach widget visible when advertisers are setting up an ad creation campaign.
Thus far, Facebook has shown an estimated campaign reach based on a marketer’s targeting choices that is based on the average performance of ads targeted to that selected audience. However, the brand promises to improve their methodology, so that campaign reach is always within ±10% of the estimate.
Facebook also announced refinements to tabulating reactions on Facebook Live videos and fixing a discrepancy between like and share button counts on desktop and mobile.
Paid Social Strategy Looking Forward
The bugs, errors, and procedural issues at Facebook over the last few months obviously haven’t been great news for marketers or their clients. However, the social media giant seems to have righted the ship, understanding the importance of ad revenue to its business model and the confidence marketers need in the platform to accurately do their jobs.
The integration of third-party verification partners into the mix will help assure marketers, but other moves are likewise encouraging. The announcement of an industry Measurement Council to advise Facebook on advertiser concerns and measurement needs is promising. So is the overhaul of communications, including better in-product definitions, regular partner updates via client teams, and the new Metrics blog.
In the end, Facebook may have lost face with marketers, but its ad audience remains one of the largest in the world. Facebook’s targeting options, thanks to its copious user data, is second to none.
For now, we may not be able to guarantee impressions and reach are always accurate — but remember, that’s not the end goal of your social media marketing. The end goal is conversions and sales growth. These are metrics completely within your control. Do your part to keep your eye on the end goal, and it won’t matter quite as much if Facebook metrics are a big wonky.
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