A few weeks back, the Wall Street Journal gave us another reason not to trust social media giants. “Facebook Overestimated Key Video Metric for Two Years” screamed the headline on the WSJ story. (If you have trouble accessing the WSJ, this Fortune article is also enlightening.)
Two years of deception.
Basically, when reporting the average amount of time viewers watched videos, Facebook only included people who watched three or more seconds. By excluding the people who moved on in less than three seconds, they created the impression that the average duration of views was longer than it actually was.
In other words, they made it seem that advertisers were getting more attention than was really the case.
This incident led to a rash of high profile complaints. The WSJ piece quotes Keith Weed, chief marketing officer of Unilever, who said tech companies who don’t let third parties measure their platforms is the equivalent to “letting them mark their own homework”. Publicis Media told its clients, “This once again illuminates the absolute need to have 3rd party tagging and verification on Facebook’s platform.”
Oh, yeah – big time.
To be fair, back when Mark Zuckerberg was at Harvard dreaming up Facebook, the last thing he was thinking of was how he’d connect brands with consumers. When brands enter into the pay-to-play social media world, they need to understand they are dealing with an ecosystem that is still figuring out how to accommodate their needs.
Although a media buyer might understand what a Facebook viewership metric means, by the time a media buyer explains to an account person who explains to a client who forwards a report to 30 of her colleagues… “average duration of video viewed” means what most humans beings thinks it means, not what Facebook’s small print reveals it really means.
Sorry for that run-on sentence. My point is simple: they’ve been misleading us.
Given the huge sums of money pouring into social media advertising, we need absolute transparency about what’s being watched, for how long. Advertisers need to know what they’re paying for, even when it’s not what social media networks promised.
“Trust us” is not an acceptable answer. We need robust third-party proof that stretches across the social media landscape.
Right now, we only have very limited 3rd-party auditing. The major players can basically say whatever they want, and – keep this in mind – their job is to monetize their platform. They are telling stories with their data, and the story is anything but impartial. All the big social media platforms are either public or packed with money from investors. Once that happens, profits matter far more than purpose. Without 3rd-party oversight, you can bet that all decisions – and all the stories we hear – will err on the side of maximizing platform profits.
That, my friend, is how misleading labels manage to stay in place for two years.