Facebook finds more miscalculated metrics, but many retailers don’t care

November 16, 2016 03:00 PM

Facebook Inc. today acknowledged that it miscalculated several metrics it has been sharing with retailers and other marketers. The announcement comes less than two months after the social network disclosed it had been giving marketers an inflated number for the average time spent viewing online videos.

Facebook also says it has developed an internal review process to ensure its metrics are clear and up to date, while also rolling out more relationships with independent companies to monitor its metrics to quell marketers’ concerns about the social network’s data.

The social network says it uncovered the issues after undergoing a comprehensive internal metrics audit and that none of the metrics in question affected the way Facebook calculates how it charges for advertising.

Among the measures Facebook says it misrepresented are:

  • Organic reach, which is how many consumers see a post without the retailer paying to promote it. Facebook says that since May it has been miscalculating the summary numbers in its Page Insights analytics dashboard that showed seven-day or 28-day organic page reach as the sum of daily reach instead of  deduping repeat visitors over those periods. The deduped seven-day summary in the overview dashboard will be 33% lower, on average, and the deduped 28-day summary will be 55% lower, on average. Facebook says it will be fixing this in the next few weeks. The issue did not affect paid reach.
  • Video watches at 100%—that is, how many consumers watch every second of a video. Facebook says that when marketers upload their videos to Facebook, the full video length is recorded, but when the video delivers to people’s devices, the length of the video can sometimes be a fraction of a second shorter or longer. There are a number of reasons that may account for the discrepancy, such as when the audio and video track don’t line up, which may lead someone to watch all the visual elements of a video but stop the clip before the audio stops. While someone may watch a video to completion on their device, the audio may continue to play a bit longer. One of the independent companies Facebook is working with found that Facebook actually undercounted this metric by roughly 35%, which means a retailer that had the “video watches at 100%” metric at 1%, would now see it adjusted to 1.35%.
  • Referrals, which is in the Facebook Analytics for Apps dashboard. Facebook had miscalculated the “Referrals” metric, which evaluates all posts produced by people via an app or website. Instead of only counting clicks that went directly to an app or website, the social network also counted other clicks on those posts via the app or website, including clicks to view photos or video. That issue may have overstated, on average, referrals by about 6%, Facebook says. The issue did not impact other referral measurements, such as those that appear in Facebook’s ads-reporting tools. The social network says it is working to fix the issue.

Despite Facebook’s issues, some retailers say they aren’t concerned about the misreporting because the affected metrics aren’t ones they use to determine their social marketing spending.

“We researched the detail and it's of limited consequence to us as a partner,” says Billy May, senior vice president, marketing, direct-to-consumer and corporate development at Abercrombie & Fitch Co., No. 58 in the Internet Retailer 2016 Top 500 Guide. He notes that larger advertisers, such as consumer packaged goods or manufacturers or automotive brands, might have experienced a larger impact. 

Similarly, Eoin Comerford, CEO of Moosejaw (No. 273), doesn’t expect to change the way the outdoor goods retailer approaches Facebook as a result of the disclosure.

“Regardless of the reach metrics, [Facebook] has never really driven much by way of actual revenue so it has remained a rather minor channel for us, accounting for less than 1% of our marketing spend,” he says. Of course, that puts Moosejaw in the minority of retailers. After all, Forrester Research Inc.’s report “The State of Retailing Online 2016: Marketing and Merchandising” found that 68% of respondents said Facebook ads increased sales and that 71% of retailers said they boosted their spending on Facebook this year.

Even so, Facebook’s disclosure is a sign that retailers need to be critical about the metrics they use to evaluate their marketing channels, says Dayle Hall, vice president of marketing at Lithium Technologies. “This is a world where you have to rely as much on your own knowledge and data as the vendor’s analytics, and the recent news that Facebook’s reporting was incorrect bears this out,” he says. 




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