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Facebook has revealed a host of new errors in its metrics and reporting for advertisers and says it’s overhauling metrics processes and stepping up transparency through third-party verification in order to combat concerns.
The social networking giant came under fire a couple of months ago after disclosing it had been vastly overestimating average viewing time for video ads on its platform for two years. The metric for average time users spent watching video had been inflated by up to 80 per cent because it was only factoring in video views of more than 3 seconds.
This week, the company disclosed a fresh list of errors discovered, which stretches back to August last year. One of these is a bug discovered in page insights that overestimates organic page reach by up to 55 per cent on 28-day reporting, and 33 per cent on 7-day summaries. The bug has been live since May and would be fixed in the next few weeks, Facebook stated.
Another of the more than four errors revealed is over-reporting on time spent in articles by consumers in the Instant Articles mobile content tool by 7-8 per cent, a mistake that’s been in place since August last year. Facebook said averages had been calculated across a histogram of time spent, instead of reflecting total time spent reading an article divided by total views.
Facebook also disclosed a miscalculation in referrals in its Analytics for Apps tool, a metric which evaluates all posts produced by people via an app or website. Overall, referrals have been overstated by 6 per cent on average.
“We meant to count clicks that went directly to an app or website; however, we’ve also counted other clicks on those posts via the app or website, including clicks to view photos or video,” the company stated. “Out of the referrals we currently report, on average about 30 per cent are actually clicks to consume content on Facebook.”
As a result of the errors, Facebook said it was working to overhaul metrics reporting via a number of initiatives. Among these are increased third-party verification, and the company said it’s launching the ability to verify display impression data through third-party viewability partners including Moat, Integral Ad Science and comScore.
For publishers, Facebook is partnering with Nielsen to include Facebook video and Facebook Live viewership in Nielsen’s Digital Content Ratings.
In addition, Facebook has created a new internal review process around metrics for its product offerings, and the company said it plans to communicate regularly with clients around changes. This will include in-product definitions, through client teams, and via a metrics FYI blog.
There’s also plenty of work being done on clarifying metrics, and Facebook said more descriptive names, clarified calculations, more consistent definitions and better categorisation are among the updates coming to clients. This will be supported by its global client council and a soon-to-be-formed measurement council.
“Today we’re updating our metrics to give our partners and the industry more clarity and confidence about the insights we provide,” Facebook stated. “We know that having access to reliable metrics is important to the millions of partners who use our services to grow their businesses. As our products evolve to meet the needs of the people and businesses that use them, our metrics will also evolve.”
Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) Australia CEO, Vijay Solanki, said the association supported Facebook’s move towards more transparent measurement and the further adoption of third-party measurement systems and metrics.
“The Australian market has supported independent audience measurement for many years and is one of the few markets with an industry endorsed currency,” he said. “The IAB continues to work with media buyers, sellers and measurement vendors to drive independent, robust and transparent systems for the digital ecosystem.”
In a statement, the AANA said that as the single largest marketing expense for a brand owners, marketers need to be able to make and defend these investments with confidence.
"For decades, advertisers have relied upon a standard of accepted practice for traditional media that requires independent reporting and verification of their audiences and their usage patterns, which have typically been supported by all competitors in a specific media category," the statement read.
"It is this third-party verification that Facebook is currently lacking. The latest revelations by Facebook cast a cloud of doubt over how reliable Facebook's data and self-reporting is."
"Equipping advertisers to achieve transparency in the media buying ecosystem has been high on the AANA’s agenda this year as it has been with our counterparts around the globe, like the Association of National Advertisers in the US."
The AANA called on the over-riding principles of comparability and accountability to govern all players in the media ecosystem and said it's in conversations with the Association of National Advertisers in the US, the ANA, to support its efforts to encourage Facebook to accept independent verification.
"The AANA sees no reason why Facebook should not abide by the standards of independent verification and auditing that more traditional media players have signed up to for decades in order to assure advertisers of their media investments," the statement continued.
"If Facebook and others don’t move voluntarily to an independent verification, it will require the major advertisers around the world to cooperate and crack this problem and achieve independent accountability in the digital space."
ThinkTV’s CEO, Kim Portrate, meanwhile, was quick to use the discrepancies in Facebook metrics to highlight the ongoing auditing and measurement processes supporting TV as an industry.
“When it comes to advertisers and their agencies deciding where to invest their budgets and having confidence they are reaching the audience they need, TV wins hands down,”she said in a statement. “Buyers of Australian TV ad spots can invest knowing that this industry’s audience metrics have been continuously audited, independently, for 16 years - and show a daily reach of 16 million Australians.
“OzTAM’s third-party measurement panel is not only the gold standard for independence, it will also increase by 50 per cent next year, making it the largest per capita people metered market in the world.”