Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn pressed to adopt independent audits

In recent months, digital platforms have come under intense scrutiny for lack of clarity when it comes to advertising metrics.

Under this pressure, YouTube, during the Advertising Week Europe, said it will clean up its metrics and focus on three core data points. These are unique reach, watch time and audibility. It will now give advertisers these basics in its campaign performance reports.

Meanwhile, Amazon, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Foursquare have all been called out by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) for not adopting independent audits. This comes hot on the heels of  Google agreeing to open up its YouTube ad inventory and ad buying platforms for audit by the MRC, and Facebook reportedly being in talks with MRC in auditing its metrics.

When contacted by Marketing, a spokesperson from Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, underlined its commitment to auditing.

“Facebook and Instagram are committing to an audit by the Media Rating Council (MRC) to verify the accuracy of the information we deliver to our partners,” the spokesperson said. Similarly, a spokesperson from LinkedIn said  it welcomes a meeting with the MRC to discuss its practices and learn more about their perspective.

“As always, we are committed to creating the best possible experience that will deliver on the needs of both our members and customers,” the spokesperson added.

In a statement to Marketing, a Pinterest spokesperson said that the company fundamentally believes in a third party measurement and validation ecosystem. Conversations with the MRC and auditors are already currently underway. Pinterest's current focus is adding more measurement partners such as Moat, which recently joined its Marketing Partners program.

"Our advertisers and agency partners are supportive of this approach and prioritisation. We do believe we will conduct audits in the future and are committed to third party measurement. At this point, we do not have a timing to share regarding audits," the spokesperson added.

Twitter, Foursquare and Snapchat have yet to come back to Marketing with a comment.

Speaking with Marketing during his recent trip to Asia, Rob Norman, chief digital officer of GroupM, said that while advertisers have the right to know what they paid for, it isn't likely these walled gardens of social media sites will come down quickly. In fact, it is their right to not have these walls come crashing down, he explained.

"Should they open up the data? I don’t see why they should. I am with them. Advertisers are entitled to third party measurement of viewability and impression counting but big platforms are entitled to protect themselves from data leakage," he said. He added that in the age of machine learning this protects consumer privacy.

"It also creates competitive advantage by owning your own data is completely reasonable," he said. He added that to think that social media sites would handover all their data for media agencies to have a field day with, is naïve thinking.

"In this circumstance clients and agencies need to validate the success of each platform and all platforms in combination rather than rely on attribution from any single seller," he added. Instead of asking for the platforms to open up their data completely, Norman suggests that media agencies need to create data sets of their own and deploy that data inside each of the big platforms.

However, if these sites are not willing to open up, they should not expect advertisers to believe their views of what the impact was on sales.

Prashant Kumar, senior partner at Entropia said he was completely up for the opening up of walled gardens.

Digital platforms cannot be both the player and the referee. Companies that are investing billions in these platforms need an independent count of what they are truly getting.

He explained that the walled gardens create incredible levels of complexity and lack of common standards that is untenable.

“Data is not automatically equal to efficiency. Just as technology is not always equal to transparency and complex doesn't always mean sophisticated. Complexity can kill the soul of marketing - insights and ideas,” Kumar added.

Agreeing with Kumar is Prantik Mazumdar, managing partner at Happy Marketer, who said that it is imperative that data from all digital publishers be audited, given the scale of monetisation. He added that it is only right for the clients to know if what they are paying for is as valuable as what the platform claims it to be.

“I am glad ANA is pushing some of the major social media networks to open up, especially given some of the recent errors that have cropped in the metrics reported by large scale platforms like Facebook,” Mazumdar said. Moving forward, he is of the view that the marketing industry needs transparency to make better informed choices, and doing so, this transparency will also help the social media platforms improve.

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