Facebook: We’re not ignoring discrepancies in our numbers says global VP

Rosie Baker
By Rosie Baker | 30 October 2017

Facebook's Carolyn Everson, vice president of global marketing solutions and one of CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s key lieutenants in the digital business, has defended its response to the recent reach reporting scandal, but says it is working to communicate with advertisers around its tools.

Speaking to AdNews on a recent trip to Australia, Everson said: “The reason why you haven’t heard anything since the initial statements, is actually because work is under way right now and until we feel like we have a better way of explaining the differences and going through our methodology, we don’t have anything new to report there. But it’s not like we’re ignoring it, and saying ‘OK, that was a press cycle, we’re done’. We’re not, we’re actually really focused on this.”

AdNews revealed last month that Facebook is promising advertisers it can reach more young adult Australians that actually exist in Australia, when compared to the 2016 census. Subsequently 12 other markets were investigated and found to have similar discrepancies in the audiences Facebook claims and census data on the population.

Read: Facebook says platform can reach 1.7m more young adult users than Aussie population 

In some cases, such as the US market, the discrepancy  is as much as 40% between how many millennials Facebook tells advertisers they can reach, and the number of millennials the census records in the population figures.

Facebook issued a response at the time attributing the disparity to issues such as multiple account holders and travel distorting the figures, but also said its reach numbers are not intended to match census information.

In the weeks since then, many advertisers and agency partners AdNews has spoken with off the record have aired their concerns about the response and questioned whether it is good enough.

AdNews put this to Everson, and she reiterated what it had previously said, but added Facebook has to do more to explain its position to advertisers, and improve the tool.

“Let me try to explain where we are and what’s going on. So, first of all, the Reach Estimate Tool was never designed to match the census data. In other media companies, Reach Estimate Tools do not match the census data,” she said.

“But if the Reach Estimate Tool says X and census says Y, how do you get from X to Y? We need to do a better job at clarifying for the market what the differences are and how to explain them. It does not impact billing, that’s a really important thing, and I do think we need to do a better job at explaining when you see the variances of X, these are the different factors that you as a marketer or an agency should take into account. I think the lesson for us there is just make the tool more clear, and generally speaking, we’re going to continue to refine, and that’s in progress.”

Read: Facebook audience inflation a global issue - AdNews study

Facebook is looking at its methodology and how it speaks about its reach tool, and Everson tackled it at a number of industry events during her time in Australia.

“This is going to be over the next couple of months. This is active work in progress, and what I have said to marketers, when the question came up here over my last two days at the client council and the MFA, is that we have acknowledged that the gaps in some of these markets are big and we’ve got to do a better job at explaining.

“I think generally speaking, the market really wants to have trust in the tool but it is not a tool that is precisely accurate, it’s a general estimate of the reach.”

When pressed on the level of concern from marketers in Australia and the challenges to digital marketing that are gaining great traction, particularly following Professor Mark Ritson's repeated criticisms of relying blindly on digital platforms such as Facebook, Everson went on to outline that the level of concern from marketers on reach tool discrepancies and its previous measurement misreporting depends on what those brands are trying to achieve on Facebook and if they have access to a “closed loop” that allows them to directly track inputs and outcomes for their activity.

“The marketers that don’t focus on reach estimate discrepancies and view it as noise, are the people that actually know how to measure real business outcomes. So, e-commerce companies, gaming companies, mobile app install companies, people that are trying to drive online conversions, whatever it may be they have precise measurement. They put a dollar into the system of Facebook and they get some return and can see exactly what’s going on.

“I think where things like the Reach Estimate Tool becomes challenging, and viewability and any of those topics, are particularly [worrying] for the marketers that don’t have that closed loop, that do not have the ability to say 'I know exactly what happens when I put a dollar into the Facebook platform'.

“So, even with all of our metrics discussions and errors that we’ve had over the last year, I’ve been fascinated that you can literally divide the market in half. Half the market is like ‘This is noise, this is not relevant, we know what happens when we invest in Facebook because we get specific business results’.

“And then there’s another set of marketers where they don’t have those business outcomes because they don’t have the final closed loop, and they have proxy metrics which are incredibly important. And so it depends on who I’m meeting with, the reaction to these issues.”

“They both want to drive growth, they both want to drive business outcomes and sell products. I just think they have access to different information based on their business models, and how they were built. What we have to do is figure out how to work with two different types of marketers to bridge the gap.”

Read: Facebook admits multiple metrics errors and huge overhaul of metrics and transparency

Everson also reiterated Facebook’s commitment to improving and auditing its campaign and metrics reporting, following a number of high profile cases of misreporting of metrics over the last 12 to 18 months.

“It’s ongoing and it will always be ongoing,” she said.

Have something to say on this? Share your views in the comments section below. Or if you have a news story or tip-off, drop me a line at rosiebaker@yaffa.com.au

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