Following on the heels of the much publicized metric errors that caused Facebook to apologize to its clients late last year, even Twitter has admitted to an embarrassing metric error. In December, the company admitted that a new update to its Android app caused it to overcharge clients the whole of November. According to a Business Insider story, the mistake inflated video campaign metrics by as much as 35 percent with the company now offering refunds to affected clients.
“We will continue to monitor our systems to proactively identify issues. We value our customers’ trust in our service and will continue to provide support and transparency in our partnership,” the company said in a blog post.
Over the past few months pressure is increasing on platforms like Facebook and Twitter from certain quarters to increase their transparency and, though, these platforms have promised to just that, and, in fact, have taken steps towards it, there are some who feel the attempts are not enough. Among proponents of such thought are the likes of Sir Martin Sorrell. With advertisers becoming increasingly dependent on platforms like these, we can expect this pressure to continue to mount.
“I wouldn't call it a case of wrong reporting or error. Essentially, platforms don't know the objective behind the digital campaigns that they provide reporting for. So, interpretation of numbers can happen wrongly,” said Sanjay Tripathy, Senior Executive Vice President and Head - Marketing, Analytics, Digital & E-Commerce at HDFC Life.
He takes the example of engagement to highlight this point. “Brands may not use any paid promotion to engage, however, metrics are the same and there is no input or measure on how it was done. This makes social platforms relevant only in the immediate term and has no relevance in the long term or strategically having built a brand online,” he explains.
We are yet to say any major reaction from Indian advertisers but perhaps this might change in the new year if incidents like these continue to occur.
When we had spoken with Milind Pathak, COO of Madhouse India back in December, he was of the opinion, “We have been big proponents of third party tracking. It is in the best interests of brands to do third party tracking, ad serving, viewability tests, etc.” Without commenting on Facebook directly, Pathak said that regular incidents of errors in reporting and metrics would only lead to diminishing of client trust, not only on the platform but also the ecosystem, which is not healthy.
Both Facebook and Twitter do allow some access to third party agencies to verify efficacy of campaigns. These include the likes of Moat, Neilsen, Milward Brown, etc. Even the likes of Pinterest and Snapchat have realized that having an independent party go over campaign data only helps to increase trust. However, some observers have pointed out that the access provided to these agencies is still limited.
Aditya Save, Sr. VP & CMO at People Interactive (Shaadi.com), agreed that when platforms get their metrics wrong, it does create a lot of jitters for advertisers and agencies. “Globally, advertisers are still not completely comfortable with the link between engagement metrics & final business ROI. The truth is that CFOs don't like intermittent metrics. Marketers are often out on a limb, when it comes to showing ROI on social spends. The underlying question is: at a time when there are so many options to reach your audience, why would you pick something that has a recent history of being inaccurate at best?,” he told us.
Calling digital advertising a trust business, he further added, “Any fracture to the credibility of any engagement metric damages the trust equation between digital advertisers and such publishers. And despite the multiple dashboards we all operate with, this is still a trust business. Allowing third party tools to provide such services, is just one of the many ways to gain some of the trust & credibility back.”
Speaking about the role of independent agencies in digital advertising, Tripathy opined that it was important to have standardized reporting across platforms.
“As far as third party agency scrutiny is concerned, there are some platforms which give neutral benchmarking like Unmetric, but again they are based on their own algorithms. It will be important for a third party agency to come up with benchmarks that can help make reporting standardized across all platforms,” he said.
The Marketing Head of an e-commerce company opined that it is unfair to ask just one or two platforms to allow third party verification or validation when the entire advertising ecosystem faces problems of validation. In his opinion, when it comes to pre-sales, validation is a problem across mediums.
“If there has been a case of wrong post sales reporting then the industry should take steps to ensure the process is validated. The digital industry is evolving rapidly and Facebook and Twitter are still new so I am sure they will find a way. I personally think that unless there is a TAM equivalent for all digital platforms then third party validation or arbitrage is very difficult,” he added.