Facebook has once again been forced to issue refunds to advertisers due to errors in their ad measurement systems.
As was well-publicized, Facebook reported a range of issues with their ad metrics late last year, which also resulted in them issuing refunds. At that time, Facebook explained that the issues were relatively limited, but still, with every mistake, even the smallest one, it further erodes advertiser faith in all of Facebook’s stats. If you can’t trust their figures on one front, can you trust their other data points?
The latest discrepancy relates to video ads. First, an issue was discovered relating to videos loaded within the mobile app. As explained by Marketing Land:
“When a person uses Facebook’s mobile site, videos are supposed to stop playing when that person scrolls out of view or opens their device’s browser to another tab. But some videos, including ads, continued to play in the background after a person scrolled past them or switched to another tab in their device’s browser.”
This meant that some advertisers were being charged for video impressions Facebook was not delivering. Facebook says the impact of the error was limited, as it only related to content in the app, but they have issued credits and refunds where appropriate.
The second issue relates to videos embedded in Instant Articles. Similar to the first, Facebook’s back-end systems which load videos within Instant Articles in preparation for viewing (to reduce lag time in article) had also been playing those videos when they were not in view, resulting in incorrect charges being applied to some ad accounts.
Again, Facebook says the impact is limited, but as noted, the real effect is reputational. For each of these errors, Facebook’s credibility and trust takes another hit - advertisers are already skeptical of Facebook’s motives, given the ever-evolving News Feed algorithm and previous ad mistakes. Add to that the current electoral interference investigation, and the suggestion that Facebook welcomed foreign ad spend on US political ads, without considering the potential impacts, and it’s clear that The Social Network did not need another slip-up. The cumulative hit on the company’s reputation will be significant.
But then again, Facebook's also becoming increasingly difficult to avoid. The platform now has more than two billion users, and continues to expand. To counter issues with their ad metrics, Facebook has also announced a range of third-party verification deals, and they’re working on new tools which will better connect online ads with offline results to provide more transparency over ad effectiveness.
That’s likely where Facebook will need to put increased focus – while more transparency in their ad process is also key, providing more concrete linkages between Facebook ads and in-store or bottom line results will negate much of the hand-wringing over specific metrics, as the results will be clear to see. That’s not to say such efforts will remove the need for accurate metrics, which are always required, but as Facebook provides more tools which show direct business benefit, the real revenue results, one way or another, will speak louder than analytics.