- Facebook is standing by its audience ad targeting estimates, which differ from census data. The company worries that a recent analyst report on these data differences is being reported as a Facebook error. Global sales chief Carolyn Everson: “It’s a challenge for us.”
Facebook has acknowledged a series of recent advertising-related data errors. But over-counting the population of young people in the US by 25 million is not one of them, it says.
Late Tuesday, Pivotal Research analyst Brian Wieser sent shockwaves across the digital ad ecosystem by publishing a note saying that Facebook’s ad targeting system says it can reach 25 million more people than are reported by the most recent US census.
Facebook’s vice president of global marketing solutions Carolyn Everson told Business Insider that Wieser’s note is being misconstrued, and she’s worried that Facebook will need to do some damage control with marketers.
“It’s a challenge for us, as it’s being reported in the press as a metric error,” she said. “It’s actually two different methodologies for collecting data. Our estimates are not meant to match census data.”
For example, Wieser noted that Facebook’s data indicates it can help marketers reach 41 million 18-24 year-olds, while the US census reports there are only 31 million 18-24 year-olds in the country.
There are a few key differences between the way that Facebook estimates the size of this audience versus the US Census. For one, people self report their ages on Facebook (in this case, many of these are young people). Facebook also captures travelers in the US.
“Reach estimations are based on a number of factors, including Facebook user behaviors, user demographics, location data from devices, and other factors,” said a company spokesperson. “They are designed to estimate how many people in a given area are eligible to see an ad a business might run. They are not designed to match population or census estimates.”
It’s also worth noting that in this case, the audience estimate data is used by advertisers to figure out how many people they could potentially reach with a Facebook ad campaign, but it’s not data that is used for tracking or billing actual paid ad efforts.
“This just an estimator and campaign planning tool,” the Facebook spokesperson added. “It’s not a business’ actual reach or campaign reporting, and is not billable.”
Wieser acknowledged that the audience estimate data isn’t something Facebook bills advertisers on. But, he believes it does influence how and where advertisers decide to spend their media budgets on a high level. “Because it is used as a planning tool…and it presents implausible numbers that can influence how budgets are planned, it will cause advertisers to question other metrics Facebook provides,” he told Business Insider.
Regardless, Everson said she worries that some nuance is being lost, given the recent metrics noise surrounding Facebook.
That’s because over the past year, Facebook has reported on a growing number of data and analytics errors related to advertising data. For example, it overestimated the amount of time people spent watching some videos for two years, reported the Wall Street Journal.
But this discrepancy pointed out by Wieser shouldn’t be grouped together with those mistakes, Everson said. “It’s not like it’s some bug,” she said.