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Facebook advertisers eager for change as bugs plague its attribution technology

Facebook marketer Rok Hladnik woke up last Thursday to find that more than half of the 140 Facebook advertising accounts he operates had been randomly deactivated. The previous week, campaigns were spending too much in the wee hours of the morning, when they should have been inactive.

2021 has been the year of cicada swarms in the United States. But the bugs came for the metaverse this year, apparently.

Hladnik, founder and CEO of a boutique performance agency specializing in social media and DTC brands, is one of many Facebook ad specialists dealing with a bug-ridden new platform instead of the machine. to spin the steering wheel which brings in money. are used to using.

After bugs appear, issues are usually resolved within a day of Hladnik’s agency, Flat Circle, reporting the issue to their Facebook representative, he said. “They’re making changes to the backend and reacting to how it’s messing up the campaigns.”

But when campaigns are regularly derailed by bugs, trust is lost.

Facebook advertisers have treated the platform and Google as essentially “sources of truth,” said Madan Bharadwaj, co-founder and CTO of ad attribution firm Measured. But over the past six to 12 months, he said, “almost all of them have accepted that is no longer the case.”

However, Facebook’s bugs put attribution and agency companies in a tough spot. Marketers are used to judging campaigns by Facebook reports. These reports can show dramatic swings in targeting or return on ad spend these days. A few years ago, these fluctuations would be a sign that something strange was happening with the targeting or the creation of the campaign, or perhaps with the linked landing page.

In other words, Facebook campaign reports were telling the marketer something they should address, not Facebook.

But wild swings are now the norm for Facebook’s attribution reports and may say nothing about the campaign, except that Facebook is tinkering with its own machinery as it finds a new attribution system.

“The biggest problem is communication,” Hladnik said.

Facebook tries headlong to fix the ad platform as gears and springs fly off like a cartoon pocket watch.

To be fair, Facebook has warned advertisers and ad tech partners that this year will be a mess and it’s using more modeled attribution, rather than attributing actual conversions.

But Facebook can do more to help its partners through this difficult course correction, said social advertising consultant David Herrmann.

On the one hand, it’s clear that when Facebook works on platform updates, its own tinkering causes a cascade of odd results in ad campaign reports, Herrmann said. Facebook can notify agencies or ad buyers of specific days it will be working on platform upgrades, for example.

“It is very difficult to manage expectations [with clients]said Hladnik, echoing Herrmann’s concerns.

Marketers are focused on achieving their goals and are often not practical practitioners aware of the nuances of different advertising platforms.

If the ad buyer can alert the brand that Facebook is working on the backend and anticipating some weird results these days, it can ease the tension on some tough, urgent calls when reports come in with weird numbers.

Another big problem is the delay in data communication. With its third-party network of pixels and SDKs, Facebook captured virtually every visit or conversion to another site or app. This data was fed into campaign reports in real time.

Now, data comes in large batches that are uploaded simultaneously for thousands of accounts every two or three days, Hladnik said.

Again, Facebook warned advertisers to expect slow reporting and not to optimize campaigns without a few days to build up a level of data so the platform can model results.

And some advertisers are less affected. Big brands, especially with more expensive items, are less affected by Facebook’s upheaval, Hladnik said.

Toyota’s profit margin isn’t dependent on the Facebook ad platform, and a massive brand with a diverse ad budget, like McDonald’s, is relatively unaffected by a two- or three-day delay in reporting.

But the mechanics of Facebook’s advertising platform are built into many e-commerce businesses. Startups or small niche brands have succeeded on Facebook in part because they themselves are great do-it-yourselfers. They’re targeting carefully, changing spend levels, and optimizing more often because they have to slice and dice platform audiences to find those perfect leads.

Facebook’s consistent response has been to be patient and, well, slow down. In February, Facebook acknowledged it was still underreporting attribution, but said it had reduced the margin of error from 15% to 8%.

Says who?

If every time the butterfly of the Facebook advertising platform flaps its wings, a tsunami hits the attribution reports, ad buyers will stop trusting Facebook’s data or promises of performance improvements.

The tools Facebook is building to fix the black box advertising platform are an even darker box, Herrmann said. “What are they doing to gain the trust of media buyers or publishers? Because Facebook doesn’t provide details about what’s being worked on or fixed in the background, even if that work changes ad campaign performance.

Even more than Google, Facebook has built its advertising dominance on the idea that its data and algorithms are the best on the market, according to Hladnik. You didn’t have to trust Mark Zuckerberg; Advertisers trusted Facebook’s results.

“But that is no longer the case. You can’t trust the data,” he said. “It makes me question the data from before too.”