‘It was a good day’: Facebook’s Carolyn Everson on metric miscalculation & transparency

Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s vice president of global marketing solutions

For most people, a day like the one Facebook had yesterday could be considered rough. After revealing that more metrics were miscalculated, on the heels of September's revelation that the company had been overstating video views, one could be excused for not being in good humor. However, Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s vice president of global marketing solutions, doesn’t see it that way.

“Believe it or not, it was a good day, from my perspective,” said Everson. “I think what we demonstrated was a level of commitment and rigor that I was really proud of. I am the first one to say I do not like mistakes. We had one in August. That was, in my view, something we looked at as a learning opportunity. What could we have done better? The answer is not, ‘never make a mistake again,’ because that's just not realistic. Consumer behavior keeps changing. We have new products. What is really important is to learn when you do make mistakes.”

It stands to reason that Everson would approach the situation this way as candor is one of her calling cards. On the stages of Advertising Week back in September, Everson put that particular measurement elephant in the room, addressing the news that the company had been overstating video views.

“I think the lesson learned for all of us at Facebook, and perhaps in the industry, is that what we should have done a month ago is we should have just made it public that we had found this error, and that we had made the correction, and not just called our clients and agencies,” Everson said at the time.

It’s easy to armchair quarterback not being in the thick of the action. Yes, the current state of affairs is not ideal for Facebook and companies and platforms certainly need to be held accountable, especially with advertising dollars. But yesterday, Facebook, and especially Everson, moved quickly and publicly to assuage concerns, announcing the formation of a “Measurement Council,” continued third-party verification and a metrics FYI blog post, offering up more clarity and communication on metrics and reporting.

Though to some it seemed like a case of backpedalling or scrambling, the company, according to Everson, had much of what was announced moving forward long ago.

“Some of what we announced had been in the works way earlier than August. Third-party verification — that started in the fall of 2015 when we launched with Moat, and we've been launching subsequent partners on video,” noted Everson. “(Yesterday) we announced Display, but we were committed to third-party verification a year ago. The measurement counsel was even in the works prior to August.”

Two words that seem to crop up in times like this are “confidence” and “trust.” Yesterday, Everson spent the day speaking with ad industry association and agency leaders, Facebook’s client counsel members and more. Overall, the feedback was generally positive, but she is not unrealistic on what’s ahead.

“Of course I'm going to continue to evolve and improve. By no means am I resting on my word and saying, ‘Okay, I got a lot of positive feedback. Great. Check the box, we're done.’ Absolutely not. In my view we're never done,” said Everson.

The Facebook Measurement Council is one piece of the proverbial bridge between brands, agencies and the platform that has support from the likes of founding members Nestlé and Unilever. The former, in fact, appears to be deepening their ties to the platform as they ramp up their own aggressive e-commerce approach.

“As a partner who works with Facebook a great deal, we’re really encouraged by this move – it underscores their commitment to transparency and third party measurement,” said Pete Blackshaw, Nestlé global head of digital & social media. “Across all online channels, we deeply value third party ad verification.”

Added Keith Weed, Unilever’s CMO, “We welcome Facebook’s move to create better standards in this fast-developing digital media industry, and these steps reinforce their commitment to this. At Unilever, we continue to encourage the entire industry to move towards greater transparency and more robust measurement. There is still much to be done, particularly in the areas of viewability and third party verification.”

One particularly vocal critic, Sir Martin Sorrell, WPP’s chief executive, continues his rally cry for more third-party measurement saying that, in the case of Facebook, “Clearly it’s an example where the player and referees cannot be the same person or where you cannot mark your own homework.”

“I agree with Martin that the player and the referee should be two different people,” said Everson. “Martin and I have been in contact. I don't disagree with him, and that's why we're committed to third-party verification. I think we had more work to do prior to the announcement today because it had only covered video. At the end of the day, I appreciate Martin, and frankly, any feedback we get from our most important clients and agencies. That's what makes our business better. Our client counsel has been giving feedback to myself and our engineering team and our measurement team for literally almost six years.”

The fact is, digital and technology will always be highly-complex, continually morphing targets of advertising success and derision. For every great “digital advertising performance" story, there will likely always be counterweights questioning said performance. Additionally, the “traditionalists” could potentially emerge with an argument dispelling the power of digital.

“Traditional media that's been around for, call it 70 plus years, has established metrics. The medium hasn't evolved as dramatically,” said Everson. “It’s certainly not as complex as the digital and mobile landscape. What I would say is I would go back to where is the consumer? That is the most important thing that drives client's business growth. The CMO has literally one word that they are maniacal about: growth. That's what I do day in and day out — is partner and advise CMOs. If I am the CMO I want to be where consumers are spending a significant amount of their time. There is no doubt that with 25% of consumer time in a mobile environment, this is an area where marketers need to be.”

"We are all dealing in a very complex world of multiple data streams and technology. Facebook wants and needs to create better standards and reinforce that commitment to produce better business outcomes for marketers,” said Bill Koenigsberg, President, CEO & Founder, Horizon Media. “This is a great model for transparency and can only serve to build better measurement solutions. They are listening to client needs always striving to do better and we applaud them for that.”

For her part, Everson acknowledges that time, combined with focused effort, is critical and that she and her team are in it for the long haul.

“Is it completely clear on all of the measurements and how we should look at everything across different publishers? No. But is it evolving, is there a commitment to getting it right? Absolutely. It's going to take time,” said Everson. “I think that's the new world we're living in, and we're going to have to be comfortable that the rate of change is significant. What’s key is that I hold myself personally accountable and my team as well — and ask if we have the right moral compass in how we’re leading our business? If that moral compass is focused on driving business outcomes for clients, being as accurate as possible, as transparent as possible, and committed to real strong and ongoing communication, that's what's going to move this forward. It's not going to be ‘ta-da,’ one day we have it all figured out.”

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