Facebook’s metrics blunder causes publishers to fret, too

Facebook’s metrics blunder isn’t likely to spark a mass exodus from media owners publishing content on the platform, but it has triggered some major side effects. One of those is loss of confidence in a platform where publishers have devoted a lot of resources.

Mark Frankel, head of social media at BBC News, said the metrics blunder will likely cause some changes in how they currently approach publishing content on Facebook. “We need to be persuaded that the success measures there can be tracked robustly; otherwise, a lot of the budgetary decisions on resources, content, deployment of teams, whether it’s for Facebook Live or Instant Articles, can change. If we aren’t persuaded we’re getting that traction, it’s harder to get the traction internally for doing it,” he said.

Facebook’s error was related to how it measures the organic reach of posts, video completions and time spent on Instant Articles — bugs that were quickly remedied by the platform, which was also quick to point out the errors weren’t billable to marketers. And yet the error came just a few months after Facebook revealed it had been overstating average viewing times for video on its platform.

“Any distribution partner that reveals their analysts have not been reporting correctly causes concern. We make decisions around investment and resource allocation on the basis that the numbers we’re working to are accurate,” said a commercial director of a national publisher, who preferred to remain anonymous.

The BBC will take the metrics’ snafus into account when determining its future content strategy, according to Frankel.

“If the video views we’re getting aren’t achieving what we previously thought they were, does that reinforce the value of a mixed economy, and not being too reliant on video as a panacea on Facebook?” he said.

An editor from a digital media publisher, which generates massive reach on Facebook, said that the team is also looking closely at what resource it currently puts into Facebook.

“We were happy to play the game by Facebook’s rules while it also worked for us,” said the editor, who spoke under condition of anonymity. “It’s still hugely important and will continue to be but we’re also looking to develop other distribution models. And it may well be that attention shifts a bit away from Facebook as we look to get more for the resource we put in, elsewhere.”

For media owners, Facebook metrics have never been perfect. There are gaps. That’s why some publishers have welcomed the fact that the platform’s measurement fallibility has been brought to the attention of big advertisers too.

“Most publishers have been reassessing their investment in Facebook as the terms have become increasingly difficult, but this mainly helps us also make the case to advertisers that maybe the numbers that they have been sold are not reliable,” said a senior executive from a national newspaper, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity. “Most publishers knew that the black-box metrics were a problem that we had been flagging.”

This may have been an uncomfortable week for Facebook, but really, it’s a mere drop in the ocean for the social platform. It’s unlikely that media companies will will stop publishing content there, and advertisers won’t pull back spend, though it should give them grounds for better negotiation. Some publishers believe that could even work in their favor.

Simon Haynes, digital director at Northern & Shell, owner of the Express newspapers, said that until Facebook can do more to prove that it values journalists and understands that all content isn’t equal, in the wake of this latest fake-news furor, then publishers will always prefer Google. “Facebook may realize that their generalization of what is content is not prudent to them having a role. And short of them employing editors to show they’re not just a technology company but a news company, they need to re-engage with publishers who fact-check and comply with journalistic law principles. So that could cause a real sea change,” he added.


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