#MediaSnack Ep.54: The Start Of The End For Facebook?
On this episode of #MediaSnack Tom and David devote the episode to considering Facebook’s stunning growth and the impact of a bumpy last few months which has included criticisms of fake news dominating their timelines, issues over measurement inaccuracies and the closing of their troubled ad-serving business.
Where to start with Facebook? The media phenomenon has seen highly enviable growth over the last decade which has been well publicised. From the outside we’ve all marvelled at a business which has managed rocket-speed growth whilst managing to keep staff, investors, marketers and agencies consistently engaged and supportive. It is a case study in how to expand a business and maintain vision, consistency and reputation. However, in the last 6 months their celebrated success story has come in for a bumpy ride. The most notable dent, especially for marketers and agencies, comes from revelations Facebook issued in September 2016 that one of their performance metrics was inaccurate.
After an internal audit by independent measurement company MOAT, Facebook admitted the way they had calculated video views - one of a staggering 220 different metrics they track - had been calculated incorrectly. After further internal investigations they found additional inaccuracies in other metrics - leading many to question whether Facebook had been benefitting commercially from overstating the impact of their advertising products. Facebook claimed the errors hadn’t influenced the prices paid by advertisers, but you could argue that the decision to use Facebook at all is based on their self-validated effectiveness measures. Facebook, to their credit seem to have managed this well - quickly issuing clarifications and changes. Facebook announced that they were opening up to external verification, creating a Measurement Board which invites independent measurement companies and some advertisers to ensure Facebook is properly serving brand needs and held more accountable.
Following the concerns over metrics, they came in for criticisms over the algorithm managing news stories in Facebook-user timelines. Research seems to suggest that so-called “fake news” stories had outperformed genuine news (whatever that means), especially notable during the US Presidential elections. This calls into question the role that Facebook should play: does it become editor and curator of news or simply a platform which allows freedom of speech?
Finally, Tom and David report on Facebook’s closure of their trouble ad-server, which was part of their Atlas business. The ad-serving had found it hard to compete with Double-Click’s dominance and so they have taken the decision to close and focus Atlas on measurement, which was always its strength. Facebook’s huge asset of having logged-in users across multiple devices and apps allows for very smart targeting, in theory. Atlas’ future can focus more on this ‘people first’ measurement.
Perhaps far from this being the beginning of the end of Facebook, is it merely the end of the beginning - a media company which is learning (alongside important clients like P&G who have scaled back their precision targeting on Facebook) as it grows and moving from being a ‘safe harbour’ for media dollars, to a more accountable performance platform. Its move to come clean and now upgrade its metrics, and allowing external verification are the actions of a mature media business, listing to its customers and building for the future.