Facebook repeatedly has corrected traffic data that it makes available to its advertisers. In its latest snafu, Facebook reported inaccurate user engagement figures. It appears that the number of people who shared or commented on a Facebook link exceeded the sum of shares, likes and comments for that link.
That’s not supposed to happen.
If the data points are wrong, how do advertisers know what they’re buying?
The New York Times reports that the errors “have given pause” to some advertisers and ad buying agencies. Advertisers spent $5.7 billion on U.S. Facebook advertising in the first six months of 2016 alone, or more than two-thirds of overall U.S. social advertising expenditure.
To give “pause” is a woefully inadequate reaction when advertisers really ought to be raising hell.
On its corporate website, Facebook commits to such steps as third-party verification, working with clients to build measurement solutions, and providing regular and clearer communications on metrics. But consider this: Even if its effort to fix the problem is carried through, advertisers and agencies are still stuck with metrics that Facebook develops and controls.
Data concerns arise elsewhere
Data accuracy isn’t just a concern for Facebook. LinkedIn is routinely working at improving data accuracy, recently with its endorsements system. Analytical questions also surround Twitter, drawing Econsultancy questions about content curation, for example.
Clever journalists will spot some errors, but Facebook and other social media lack the more formal third-party and regulatory oversight that exists in other parts of the advertising agency world.
Such questions and missteps do not mean that social media marketing is a bad investment. Although ROI measurement is a challenge (even with accurate data), social media channels are invaluable for business development and brand management. Data issues do suggest, however, that a marketing or advertising team must not accept data at face value but apply its own benchmarks for social media success.
Suggestion for marketers? Scrutinize!
This might mean that marketers get a bit picky in their selection of key performance indicators. In our Facebook example, more weight could be given to conversions or costs per lead instead of engagement. Too little of this is done now. SocialTimes cites a Simply Measured survey indicating that most (56%) of marketers relay on engagement metrics while only 20.7 percent focus on conversions.
For the average marketing function, finding the intellectual and financial resources to better identify and interpret useful data is a problem in itself. Citing the same research, SocialTimes reports:
These statistics mean that, until they get their data act together, too many marketing professionals will remain dependent on social media partners for both data and the related analytics.
If you need to get your data house in order, here’s a suggestion for the short term: Stop writing checks to Facebook until you get the timely and accurate data you need to market effectively.