20 Oct 2016

How To Restore Faith In Social Advertising Metrics

When it comes to campaign advertising, social media data serves the same function as gold bullion does in wealth, it’s the metric that informs our investment decision making. The difference is that unlike the gold trade, there’s no regulation looking out for our best interests.

The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) oversees financial institutions such as banks, credit unions, insurance and superannuation funds. The Australian Press Council deals with standards and policy for newspapers, magazines and their digital offshoots. Television and radio have the Australian Communications and Media Authority. So why doesn’t Facebook and Instagram, YouTube and Google, Twitter, LinkedIn and others have a regulator that protects and audits data integrity for industry, brands and marketers?

Measurement Mess

In recent weeks we’ve had revelations that Facebook’s advertising platform grossly miscalculated video viewing percentages, leaving advertisers and brands wondering about the value of two years-worth of reporting and data. That doubt deepened last week when it was revealed that its streaming numbers have been exaggerated in Australia.

If you go into Facebook business manager now and track your video ad campaign that was in-market between June and August, you will receive a notification from Facebook that looks like this:

“Video Percentage Watched and Video Average Watch Time are available as of Aug 25, 2016.”

Perhaps, inserted as a notification to allay concerns around the three-second video views issue that did not hold up to consistent viewing results for agencies and advertisers?

Then there’s Facebook’s pixel tracking. Another method to measure results not dissimilar to Google’s tracking methods. Now, as a marketer and advertiser, getting your head around this can be a bit of a nightmare. Ask Facebook’s minimal “help platform”, why pixel tracking always seems to inflate data and you get a different answer every time. Simply put, it’s a mess. Either data reporting needs to be simplified, or they should create a diploma especially for understanding it.

A recent campaign I worked on generated thousands of clicks to the brand’s landing page. I used Facebook’s “pixel conversion objective” tool with a tested and active Facebook brand ID pixel to track conversions. When watching a particular ad campaign, it showed a low conversion rate, but extraordinarily, the ad was reported as unusually high in Facebook’s email result receipts. It also measured extremely high for completed registrations in the pixel dashboard. It was a marketer’s big “WHAT THE…?” moment.

Only last week, the US Media Rating Council (MRC), an accreditation service advertisers rely on to ensure their ads are measured correctly suspended Google’s real-time ad-buying service “DoubleClick” for “non-compliance issues related to display served impression counts.” The problem appears to stem from Google’s failure to update its systems in response to a change in the guidelines earlier this year, but it’s still not a good look for the industry.

Such revelations generate calls for Facebook and Google to be more open about their measurement data and for Facebook to do more in the way of allowing third-party tagging, tracking and verification. And it leaves advertisers to wonder, where’s the transparency and uniformity in these results?

Universal Measurement Standards

The industry isn’t in a position to stop spending million dollar budgets with Google and Facebook and advertisers still see the gold rush value in data marketing opportunities. But these issues may lead it to take a fresh look at the weighting and proportion of budgets, as well as which media vendors its spend is apportioned.

All mixed media, public relations and advertising agencies and marketers should be calling for world governments to implement a uniformed measurement intelligence body. Presently, the approach is piecemeal, as the MRC acts as the research methodology watchdog and partners with International Advertising Bureau (IAB) and the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) to develop stringent guidelines for digital advertising. These bodies don’t receive government funding or government support.

With the growing need for digital and social media ad space, the solution is clear: a global industry body. Potentially, the MRC supported by IAB and MMA and backed by world governments, could enforce measurement standards across the media buying landscape.

Further cementing the need for an industry watchdog is an ever growing list of places to spend ad budget, such as Snapchat, Bing, WeChat, Music.ly and more.

Without global oversight and policy, a reactive government may introduce an industry ombudsman that takes months to act on issues or worse a digital marketing price-watching website that won’t create stronger competition or hold the vendors to account for their fallacies.

When we all understand the game that we are playing, we will see happy brand marketing managers and a more pleased industry. Clearly, a cut-through solution needs to be administered.

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