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Tom Denford and David Indo from ID Comms: Facebook’s growing pains

On this week’s #MediaSnack Tom and David focus on Facebook. From its stunning growth to fake news, issues over measurement inaccuracies and the closing of their troubled ad-serving business, the company has had a bumpy few months

The company has seen highly enviable growth over the last decade. It’s also managed the enviable trick of keeping 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, it’s not all been smooth sailing recently. 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 it had calculated video views – one of a staggering 220 different metrics they track – had been incorrect. Further internal investigations found additional inaccuracies in other metrics – leading many to question whether Facebook had been benefiting commercially from overstating the impact of their advertising products.

Facebook claims 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 self-validated effectiveness measures. Facebook, to its credit, have managed this well – quickly issuing clarifications and changes.

It has also opened up to external verification, creating a Measurement Board that invites independent measurement companies and some advertisers to ensure Facebook is properly serving brand needs and held more accountable.

A wider story has been the 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 during the US Presidential elections. Facebook has to decide whether to become editor and curator of news or simply a platform that allows freedom of speech.

Finally, Tom and David discuss the closure of Facebook’s troubled ad-server, which was part of their Atlas business. The company found it hard to compete with DoubleClick and will now 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 will now focus more on this ‘people first’ measurement.

Perhaps, suggest Tom and David this is merely the end of the beginning – a media company that is learning (alongside important clients like P&G which has scaled back precision targeting on Facebook) as it grows. It has moved from being a ‘safe harbour’ for media dollars, to a more accountable performance platform.

Its decision to come clean and upgrade its metrics, allowing external verification, are the actions of a mature media business, listing to its customers and building for the future.

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