Facebook needs to follow the example of traditional media

Facebook's recent measurement woes show the need for independent monitoring in media argues Kim Portrate, chief executive at ThinkTV.

Like many of you, I’m a working mum. And, like many of you, when I hit Coles or Woolies after work I am generally rushing to buy food for the family.

ThinkTV CEO Kim Portrate

As I repeated this all-too-frequent event at the shops last Thursday, it was Facebook, not the shopping, that got me thinking.

As I grabbed yoghurt – my teenager put it on the list – I realised it wasn’t the fat-free kind. She’s asked for the 99.9% fat free kind and if I got it wrong there was going to be trouble. After all she asked for 99.9% fat-free yoghurt and was expecting it to be exactly that – because, for her, you would only buy yoghurt if it’s fat-free.

How’s this relevant? Well, I’m also a marketer and if I’m looking to grow my brand its media that fuels growth. Choices made about what channel to buy are based on who has the audience I want to talk to.

So, to the events of last week…. what if the numbers I use to choose media turn out to be wrong? If they turn out to be artificially high, with the real audience numbers 55% lower than what was presented ‘on the jar’? It would be like the yoghurt being 55% full of fat. I would not be a happy shopper, and Coles or Woolies would hear about it – assuming I was able to work out the error myself.

I am sure you saw the news last Thursday when Facebook ‘fessed up to a lot of calculation errors significantly inflating its potential audience numbers for some time. It was hot on the heels of an admission that it had overestimated the average viewing time for video ads by as much as 80% over roughly two years.

Facebook says it is committed to taking corrective steps, including the formation of a rather grand-sounding “global measurement council” and an “expansion” of its third party measurement.

That is to be applauded, and fair play to the platform for – we assume – kitchen-sinking all of its dodgy metrics and getting them out in the open. We all make mistakes, I get it, so it’s a step in the right direction toward coming (again, we hope) completely clean.

And as painful as this must have been I can’t help sparing a thought for the marketers. The question I have is how did we let it come to this? How did the safe place I put my media money turn out to be full-fat, not fat-free yoghurt?

Advertisers must have suffered last week, too, even if it was as a vague and creeping sense of unease rather than a stabbing pain that hit them right before they entered the weekly meeting to discuss return on investment.

At ThinkTV we love Facebook and all the other digital platforms, not least because they can work fantastically well with TV to create amazing results for brands.

And while Facebook reassured us that none of the errors were on a directly billable metric it seems a bit disingenuous given each one of these mistakes would have had an impact on specific decisions marketers made about where to invest their budgets and, more generally, about how they see the relative strength of content and ads on the Facebook platform.

So the best thing to come out of the latest – and can we assume, final – Facebook measurement math mix-up, is that the push for transparent, open, audited, third party, impartial measurement of online advertising is finally getting the attention it deserves.

The walled-garden approach is simply not okay, any more. The first dotcom bubble popped in 2000. It’s no longer the wild west. It’s high time we all took a long look at developing an industry wide metric that stands up to the scrutiny you’d expect when you’re investing.

Rigorous, third-party verified data like OzTAM get from Nielsen – validated, independent and reliable TV ratings that are delivered day in and day out to all who want them. Not data slipped over the transom to a friendly data measurement company.

We need to see raw data collected and audited by third parties. Imagine if Facebook had the same standards, they’d never again have to tell an advertiser that their weekly average audience is actually a third lower and their 28-day average audiences sliced in half.

I reckon Facebook’s corrective measures designed to help clients “continue to invest with confidence,” is a great idea and we should all get behind it. In fact, if Facebook want an example to follow, I reckon the entire Australian TV industry would be willing to help. TV’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% next year, making it the largest per capita people metered market in the world.

It’s high time for a level aisle on online audience metrics. Let’s speak up, to make sure we’re all happy shoppers before we hit the malls this Christmas.

Kim Portrate is the chief executive at ThinkTV



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