Two years ago, Facebook admitted it had drastically overstated video views on its platform. Its miscalculation inflated average viewing times by 60 to 80 percent, it admitted.
Now, advertisers suing Facebook say the social media network knew about the erroneous metrics as early as January 2015. Rather than revealing the mistake, Facebook kept it under wraps and continued to hype video and mislead advertisers.
The plaintiffs also say the metrics overstated viewing times by 150 to 900 percent, drastically larger than Facebook’s estimate. They base the new charges on internal Facebook documents obtained through legal proceedings.
Facebook denies the allegations, and says it revealed the miscalculation as soon as it was discovered.
Overstated Metrics Encouraged Marketers to Embrace Video
Although advertisers are leveling the charges, critics say the misleading metrics convinced media publishers and marketers engaged in organic campaigns to pile into videos. Some eventually questioned their “pivot to video.” Publishers laid off writers and decreased the number of text articles on their websites to produce more expensive videos and host them on third-party platforms like Facebook and YouTube, only to find that videos did not attract the audiences they had anticipated.
The ongoing legal squabble highlights the need for brands to carefully examine metrics before reaching major marketing decisions rather than succumb to hype about the newest shiny object.
The case also underscores the importance of third-party verification of metrics. Facebook now works with third-party measurement companies and has agreed to undergo audits from the Media Rating Council, The Verge notes.
Social Media Publisher Drops Facebook Videos
Perhaps coincidentally, Social Media Examiner announced it is canceling three long-form video programs it creates for Facebook.
Founder and CEO Michael Stelzner said – ironically in a video posted on Facebook — that long-form video has no home on Facebook. Without mentioning the metrics controversy, Stelzner compared posting videos on Facebook to placing a television next to a highway and expecting people to watch a program as they zip past.
The media publisher reached what he calls the painful and difficult decision after analyzing the data, particularly retention time, to determine how many people watch the videos. The team came to the sad conclusion that few people watch the shows. “The metrics are very deceptive,” he said.
Social Media Examiner will continue to publish its program, The Journey, on YouTube. Although many of its followers will disagree with its decision, change sometimes becomes necessary.
“This is a very rapidly changing world and when the facts change, we need to change,” he said.
Now the question is: Are the overstated Facebook metrics for video the only flawed metrics? Are other metrics on social media platforms also faulty? Advertisers need to ask tough questions, require validated data, and do thorough due diligence on that data to assure authentic media measurement.
Bottom Line: Advertisers allege that Facebook knew that its video metrics drastically overstated video viewing times, but kept its knowledge secret. Besides posing a potential PR blow to Facebook, the news highlights the value of analyzing accurate metrics and provides a cautionary tale of about embracing new marketing strategies.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.