- Facebook touts its platform's massive reach as a draw for advertisers, but the company's figures don't match up with 2016 U.S. census data, according to a note from Pivotal Research Group analyst Brian Wieser cited by Business Insider. Specifically, Weiser found that Facebook says it can reach 25 million more people than are recorded in the census to exist.
- Facebook is defending its figures, however, stating that they are being misconstrued and that its estimates aren't designed to match population data, Business Insider reported in a follow-up. This is because Facebook data include travelers — not just U.S. citizens — and the fact that people self-report their age to Facebook. This might explain how it sees 10 million more 18- to 24-year-old Americans on the platform than the census says exist.
- Estimates of Facebook ad reach take into account factors like user behavior and demographic and location data from devices. These are designed to estimate how many people in a given area might see an ad, not to match population data, a Facebook spokesperson told Business Insider. Facebook's audience estimate isn't used for tracking or billing ad campaigns either, and is only an estimator for campaign planning.
In a year that's seen trust in the digital advertising space degrade considerably, the latest bit of news will do little to allay advertisers' concerns that the channel is rife with non-transparency issues that muddy the media supply chain. Though Facebook's clarification raises some valid points regarding the differing methodologies between how census data is collected and how potential ad reach is measured, a discrepancy of 25 million users is far from small fries and might continue to raise eyebrows.
This could provide a hit to Facebook's credibility and cause marketers to reconsider where they're pouring in their digital ad dollars. The news also recalls a stunning series of marketing measurement and metrics errors the company reported in 2016.
Last September, Facebook admitted it had severely overinflated video viewing metrics for two years, sparking industry discussion about improving digital ad viewability across the board. Other errors on Facebook's part ultimately led marketers to demand greater action and an overall clean-up of the digital media supply chain for 2017, a discussion that was kicked off by P&G's Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard in January.
Consumer goods giants like P&G and Unilever have since curtailed digital ad spend, which has not seriously affected their sales numbers, pointing to more bad news for Facebook, whose ad load growth is stagnating.