Facebook’s inflated metrics: Betrayal or misunderstanding?

I’d love that the headline of this article meant something like Facebook Ads’ touch to optimize your campaign and get you more conversions, but it doesn’t. Today’s story includes everything that a good drama needs: Secrets, betrayal, third parties, and obviously a huge lawsuit. According to this article, Facebook has been, not only hiding but also lying about much more than we’d let them get away with. 

It’s not a surprise that Facebook, like every big company, has its own dirty little secrets regarding its business strategy, but this time they may have gone too far. Being Marketing Specialists, we all know that there is a big difference between not saying something and saying an absolute and utter lie, and we should always be careful on how to handle those. So let’s see how Facebook did it, shall we? 

Have you ever heard of a little something called “potential reach”? I bet you have and I also bet you know how important that number is whenever planning a Display Ad strategy, right? So, if any of our decisions are based on a said number, one of our top priorities will always be to make sure that number is as accurate as possible. And the one that comes next probably will be to keep track of it in order to correct it if it happens to be, for some reason, not as certain as we’d expect. So what would we do if the potential reach metric that we believed to be so precise and reliable turned out to be terribly inflated and actually not possibly more far from reality? Well, for starters, absolutely freak out.

But what happened in Facebook’s headquarters is actually much darker. Apparently, they had been, for years, spreading potential reach metrics to their users that expressed how many people they could reach, which in fact showed how many accounts they could reach. The inexpert eye could say: So what’s the big difference? But we don’t have an inexpert eye, do we? We know all about Ad Fraud in Display Ads, hence we know when something’s off. So the big difference here is pretty simple: If I go to Facebook right now, I could easily create 10 accounts and just as easily could do it with anyone else, and that’s leaving aside how many of those could even be bots. So basing potential reach in accounts is a big problem that misleads people on making business decisions based on numbers that don’t exist. 

So the correct way to go when you find out about this mistake would be to let your customers know, apologize and find a way to solve it, right? Well, definitely this is not what Facebook decided to do. When their executives figured out what was going on, they kept on recommending Facebook’s team to fix the metric, and even to just change the wording to it so it couldn’t actually be called a lie. But Facebook ignored the warnings, passed on the possibility of avoiding a revenue hit, and ended up getting a lawsuit on behalf of many members that claimed being lied to about their potential reach metrics. Said lawsuit also claims that bringing the potential reach number closer to reality would have caused a drop in 10% of it, so Facebook decided not to. 

According to the court documents, Facebook’s employee that figured out the mistake said that it’s data that they never should have given out in the first place, due to the wrong basis that it had. However, Facebook’s spokesperson point of view was that the potential reach metric was never billed on their clients and he also said that the way it was calculated was clear in their Ads interface and Help Center. He also said that advertisers paid for their clicks and impressions, not for their potential reach metrics. 

If you ask me my opinion on this, which you probably didn’t but I’ll give you anyway, I’d say it’s sketchy, to say the least. Ok, so their clients weren’t paying for the inflated potential reach metric, but that doesn’t make it even for the fact that said metrics is one of the most taken into consideration whenever making Display Ad choices, does it? So saying that they were not charging for it doesn’t really help their case that much. If anyone made a big-budget decision based on this potential reach number that ended up being a total made up one, then wouldn’t they have a right to be mad (and compensated) even when they didn’t pay to get that metric? 

As you know by now, I’m the first in being on business decisions’ sides, but I think this time they may have taken it too far. It’s one thing to use marketing in your favor (as we all do because that’s what Marketing is used for), but it’s another very different one to just tell people lies in order to get them to spend more in your service. Hey, I’m not the lawyer here, but I’d definitely dare to say this doesn’t look very legal to me… Scammy? Yes, I’d also dare to say that it looks scammy.

So, to conclude, my point here is probably the same as many of yours. Facebook is an Ad giant, and no one can’t deny that, but anyone using their platform should definitely be careful with these little white lies they choose to go with, because you and your Display Ads may end up hurt. As for Facebook, I’m disappointed but not surprised, because, at the end of the day, giants only remain giants but putting themselves and their business first, and we should never forget that.

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