Facebook’s latest measurement errors rankles ad buyers

From the fake-news furor to metrics blunders, Facebook has had a busy week of putting out fires.

Yesterday, Facebook announced that it had miscalculated several metrics including the organic reach of posts, video completions and time spent on Instant Articles. As a sop to advertisers, Facebook said it would form a measurement council and provide more third-party verification. The moves could turn out to be mere fig leaves, but allowing third-party measurement would give in to ad buyers complaining that Facebook was “grading its own homework.”

Ian Schafer, CEO of Deep Focus, said that the snafu could lead marketers to be more skeptical of Facebook’s advertising data as well as its audience segmentation and business intelligence data, even if the miscalculations didn’t directly affect those areas. In general, the errors erode some of Facebook’s reporting authority, he said. At some point, after repeated admissions of errors, advertisers are going to be left doubting a lot of what Facebook is telling them.

“When you are given metrics where I need x to get a y, if x isn’t x, then what does y become?” he asked. “It creates a cascading effect of metrics being wrong.”

Another agency said that given Facebook’s huge role in digital advertising, a “screw-up of this magnitude” gives some clients an easy excuse to discredit the entire digital industry. Facebook declined comment for this story.

Although Facebook states that the hiccup does not affect billing, several agencies were concerned by the mishap given that the platform had already admitted to overestimating its video metrics in September.

“Facebook’s pronouncement that it doesn’t influence billing is astounding,” said Traction CEO Adam Kleinberg. “While it may not influence how they bill, it influences how advertisers spend, and that’s fundamentally the problem.”

Although some of the measurement mistakes, like the organic reach overstatement, are “almost mind-bogglingly elementary,” the other measurement errors were pretty nuanced, said Tim Dunn, director of strategy at Isobar. For example, the way Facebook is altering how they measure video completions through a stronger emphasis on lining up audio and video tracks is a very subtle change, he said. Orli LeWinter, a social marketer at 360i, said the miscalculations didn’t affect her agency’s spending because the discrepancies only occurred in Facebook’s dashboard and 360i uses exported data, which is more accurate.

Agencies were unanimously intrigued by the addition of more third-party measurements — if Facebook fully follows through. Anne DiNapoli, director of paid social at 22squared, said that the increased third-party verification shows that Facebook is listening to feedback from agencies.

However, the miscalculations will still probably increase the demand for an outside audit, DiNapoli said. The Association of National Advertisers previously pushed for a Media Rating Council audit in September after Facebook revealed it had inflated its video views.

Despite the two measuring screw-ups since September, agencies said that their confidence in Facebook’s effectiveness as an ad platform hasn’t diminished.

“It’s not confidence in the platform that’s at risk,” Schafer said. “What is at risk is Facebook authoritative role in instructing marketers how to spend their money.”