Facebook’s Miscalculated Metrics: What Marketers Need to Know

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Over the past couple of months, you may have heard some things about Facebook’s metrics.

There was talk of numbers — lots of them. Things were overestimated. Others were underestimated. People were kind of upset. But mostly, they were confused. What the heck happened? How was Facebook going to respond? And at the end of the day, what did it mean for marketers? Breathe, and don’t panic — we’re here to answer all of that.But before we dive in, let’s make one thing clear — none of it is the end of the world. Download our free guide for more data-backed tips on creating the optimal  Facebook Ad. In fact, most of the issues have already been addressed and repaired; at this point, the most important item on our agenda is to clarify what’s actually going on.

What Happened?

It started with video

The drama began in September 2016, when Facebook revealed that there was a problem with its video viewership metrics — the average time that users spent watching videos was being largely overestimated.

Mathematically, Facebook wrote in a statement, that metric should have been the resulting figure from dividing the total time spent watching a video by the total number of people who played it. Instead, the total viewing time was divided by the number of times the video was watched for three seconds or more.

So, let’s say a video received a total viewing time of five hours, or 300 minutes, and it was watched by a total of 1,000 people, 700 of whom watched it for at least three seconds. The viewership metric should be 30%. Instead, Facebook was dividing those 300 minutes by 700, resulting in a larger metric of nearly 43%. And, says the Wall Street Journal [WSJ], that went on for nearly two years.

For a social media platform that boasts how effective its video tools are for marketers, the announcement was an embarrassment. The advertising world was especially unhappy about it — Publicis Media, an ad-buying agency, told its clients that Facebook indicated viewing time overestimates of up to 80%. There were calls for third-party metric verification protocols to be put in place, and while Facebook said that it fixed the error and would be looking into such improvements, the metric misfortune didn’t end there.

A bit of a bug

In fact, just yesterday, Facebook announced that it discovered a bug in its Pages Insights that’s been lurking since May. The summary displaying seven- or 28-day organic page reach was incorrectly added up as the sum of daily reach over that period. That means duplicate visitors were being counted in every instance, leading to a number that was 33% higher than it should have been for seven-day summaries, and 55% for the 28-day ones. Facebook clarified that this error would not impact paid ads.

Here’s how Facebook visually represented the error — the red circle indicates where the duplicate viewership would have appeared.

Facebook Page Insights

Source: Facebook

But you’ll notice that there are green circles in that image, too. Those indicate the insights that were unaffected by the bug — which was the “vast majority” of them — and includes the following measurements:

  • All graphs
  • Daily and historical reach
  • Per-post reach
  • Exported and API reach data
  • All data on the Reach tab

What else was impacted?

In addition to the Page Insights, the bug really only impacted a total of four out of Facebook’s 220 measured metrics, according to WSJ. The remainder included:

More video miscalculations.

This time, the “video views at 100%” — which has been renamed to “video watches at 100%” — metric was impacted, thanks to a glitch that sometimes causes a video’s audio and visual components to be unsynced.

That means that even though the visual is played to completion, the audio may continue after the visual stops. But since about 85% of Facebook video is consumed without sound, viewers are likely to stop watching the video before this latent audio completes. As a result, “video watches at 100%” metrics might now increase by an estimated 35%.

Instant articles.

Here’s another case of Facebook’s overestimations. The average time spent reading Instant Articles — a method by which Facebook displays news articles at a rate 10X faster than a typical mobile web browser — was reported to be 7-8% higher than the actual length of time per article.

Referrals.

In Facebook’s Analytics for Apps dashboard, “referrals” are intended to measure the number of clicks on a post that were directed to an app or website. But it turns out that the “referrals” metric was counting more than that, and inaccurately also included clicks on the same post to view media, like photo or video. That led to an overestimate of referrals by about 6%.

Facebook’s Response

In Facebook’s defense, significant measures have been taken to resolve all of the above issues.

For some, the errors pertaining to ads seem to be the most pressing, which could be why the social media platform has dedicated an entire page to the updates around ads reporting alone. Most of those changes are intended to provide clarification over what exactly is being measured and how — mostly in the interest of “fairness and transparency,” Mark Rabkin, Facebook’s VP of core ads, told WSJ.

Plus, Facebook claims to be taking the feedback to implement third-party measuring protocols seriously, and aims to further clarify how it’s going to calculate ad viewership, as well as the source of that data. Some of it will be coming from Moat and Integral Ad Science — platforms that are used to measure ad and content engagement — which will be used to measure display ad campaigns (previously, those platforms were only available to measure video campaigns).

But Facebook is also enlisting the help of a true viewership pioneer: Nielsen.

Nielsen has its own Digital Content Ratings metric, which Facebook will be implementing to count video viewership — both on-demand and live. That comes with Nielsen’s Total Audience Measurement, which helps marketers compare digital metrics to those from TV.

There’s also a new blogging property launching — Facebook’s Metrics FYI — which will contain regular updates about any and all changes to the platform’s metrics henceforth.

These efforts are all compounded by the formation of a Measurement Council — or, as we like to call it, Facebook’s jury of peers. The Council will be comprised of “business and measurement executives,” and is a bit of an extension of Facebook’s existing Client Council, which helped to develop the tools that help businesses measure ROI.

What It All Means for Marketers

So just how seriously should we be taking it? Well, in short, marketers have reason to be happy about the improvements that Facebook is making, but shouldn’t freak out over the miscalculations.

Why is that? According to Daria Marmer, HubSpot’s social product manager, “Most of the metrics in question are what we’d call vanity metrics. Views and impressions are important, but don’t have a huge impact on your business at the end of the day.”

And while Marmer echoes the benefits of Facebook’s measures to fix these discrepancies, “We really encourage marketers to tie their social efforts to more concrete metrics,” she said, “such as website visits, downloads, new leads.”

She adds, “The social data from Facebook in HubSpot customers’ portals won’t change based on these updates.”

We’ve got you covered. And, we’ll continue to bring you updates to all things social as they emerge.

What do you think of Facebook’s latest announcements, and what sort of action are you taking? Let us know in the comments.

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Does Your Nonprofit Need Marketing Automation?

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Every marketing team is overworked. We’re all looking for ways to maximize the ROI on our efforts. For many organizations, using a marketing automation tool and workflows can provide a quantum leap forward in marketing results.

Of course, implementing a market automation system takes some money and know-how, which raises the question whether the investment makes sense for any given organization. It may well for your organization. Don’t buy into the overhead myth and assume higher marketing costs are a bad thing for your organization. The increased costs can be the best expense you make if they’re going to increase your membership and donations.

But not every organization’s marketing team is ready for automation. If you’re not already set up to take advantage of automation’s potential, that’s when you spending money and energy without getting the return. Your organization has important work to do with its funding. It’s no good spending it on marketing automation before you’re ready to make the most of it.

Here’s an overview of what marketing automation is really about, as well as a checklist you can run through to determine if you’re organization is ready or has some marketing gaps to fill in first.

What Marketing Automation is Really About

Most importantly, don’t think you can sit back and “set it and forget it.” That’s a big myth. Marketing automation doesn’t do your marketing for you. It amplifies the processes you already have in place. So if they’re good processes – terrific! If they’re not so good this checklist is a great starting place for your team to start building its own content marketing framework.

Creating a good framework means you’ve got a reliable system in place for publishing valuable inbound marketing content. Content that will attract and generate a strong, steady stream of leads you can nurture along to become members or donors. If your current challenge is generating traffic as well as leads using your content, focus initially on getting your system in place, and creating the desirable, valuable content your personas will want. 

Then when you’re steadily getting new leads, and your team becomes overwhelmed trying to respond to them, that’s the time to step up into your marketing automation system more completely. Turn on those lead nurturing and re-engagement campaigns. Start testing one lead nurturing email sequence against another. Tweak. Refine. Improve.

Marketing automation done well means leads won’t get ignored. The best of them will also automate the personalization of the content that you send. This is where marketing automation can take you a quantum leap forward.

Marketing automation is about scaling all the great marketing you’re already doing, so it’s executing the campaigns you design at a pace and volume that your team couldn’t possibly do manually. But you and your team need to still be at the heart of it all.

So Is Your Organization Ready?

Go through these questions with an objective eye to gauge whether your organization could benefit now by implementing a marketing automation tool.

1) Are you generating a constant stream of new, qualified leads?

To realize the benefits of marketing automation, your database needs to be a good size and constantly growing. Furthermore, the new leads coming in need to be good fits to convert into members and donors. If your database is too small, automation will just overwork the leads that are there. People will start to feel spammed and you may well see your list shrink rather than grow.

For more tips on this first crucial step, check our our introduction to inbound marketing and lead generation for nonprofits >>

2) Does your team feel overwhelmed by the number of leads pouring into your database?

If so, you may well benefit from marketing automation to make sure all these leads get their due attention.

3) What emails are you sending manually right now? Do you have email series that can be put into an automated workflow?

To reiterate the main point about what marketing can and cannot do, it can’t make a blah email series to re-engage dormant constituents, that only has middling results, into a success. What it can do, is take a string of your best performing nurturing emails and put them on autopilot for you. 

If you want to improve the efficiency and automate your lead nurturing campaigns, marketing automation can help with that. If you’re content to send one-off emails on a campaign-by-campaign basis, then marketing automation may not add much value  for you. 

4) Are you engaging with leads, members, and donors across multiple channels?

The more information your marketing automation system can gather about the people in your database, the more it can do for you. This means that marketing automation becomes more powerful the more you already engage with people through multiple channels. It’s easy to think of marketing automation only as email, but that’s selling it short. You can automate workflows that rely on other digital channels both to gather intel and push out content.

5) Do you already have manual “triggers” you use to push out relevant content to leads?

A lead who visits your donor page a certain number of times. Or a member who downloads your most recent annual report. A lead who watches a new video about the organization’s work. These can all be triggers. Do you know when your leads take relevant actions? If you do, do you have a plan that you execute that’s relevant to the action the person took 

These are all steps that marketing automation relies on. You can tell the automation system what triggers to identify and what to do with them once trigger conditions are met, but you need to know first.

6) Got the content needed to support personalizing and scaling up your marketing efforts?

The triggers and data collection intel are all about sending the right content to the right lead at the right time.  So you need the right content that speaks to different leads who are at different points in their journey. You don’t want to send a solicitation letter to join your highest donor circle level on someone’s first download. Maybe send an invitation to join your newsletter instead.

If you need sufficient input (leads) into the marketing automation machine to make it work, you also need sufficient output (relevant content). Your team needs to be producing and publishing content that’s mapped to a lead’s journey so they can be successfully nurtured further down the path.

Getting Your House in Order First

Content marketing is a continuous growth process. When you first start with inbound marketing, you learn along the way what messages and formats get your audience to respond at different points in their journey. As you refine your content and the donor’s journey, you start building workflows and criteria that make putting new campaigns and content together more efficiently

The next step in this process is marketing automation that moves your workflows from manual to automatic. The timing to move to automation makes sense when you have a steady stream of leads coming in, along with list segmentations, and lead nurturing campaigns that are getting good results.

If you’re not there yet, don’t worry. Start working on the steps on this checklist. You’ll start to see great advances in membership and donor amount drives every step of the way towards marketing automation.  Inbound Marketing for Nonprofits Crash Course


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