Is it time for an independent audit of all social media networks that sell clicks, likes, impressions and reach?

I wrote this post below one year ago, and a few days ago I read that Procter & Gamble, one of the biggest advertisers in the US, are criticising the lack of transparency by all online ad platforms such as Facebook and YouTube.

One year ago I asked the question: do we really get what we pay for when buying ads online? Many marketers and small business owners told me about their poor experiences and here is what I wrote then, but never published.

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I’ve been concerned about numbers for a while; specifically, the kind of numbers that marketers and analysts look at when promoting products and services online. Can we be sure that they are accurate?

Is Facebook honest when it says that your post reached 100 people? Did you really only pay for true clicks in your latest campaign? Is LinkedIn sharing your blog post with your network? Or is it hiding it?

I have a suggestion about how to stop the worry that I and many others are feeling. It’s about quality control. All those companies selling us clicks, impressions and reach should be audited by an independent third party. By ‘audit’ I mean that an independent third party body should look through the systems to make sure that all paying customers get what they pay for. Right now, there is no way we can know that the numbers presented by social networks are accurate.

Big web companies are making billions from their customers through advertising and they don’t need to be open about how they gather data. They might have a converter in their technical code that pushes numbers up, as Volkswagen had regarding their pollution software, although in that case they pushed their numbers down.

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In the food industry, management systems have been controlling the food we eat for decades; one system is ISO 22000, which focuses on traceability in the food chain and safety, and another is BRC, which manages food safety. The more risks there is in an industry, the more audits they perform every year.

One example of a lack of transparency concerns a small business that set up a company page on Facebook. To get more likes for their page they did an advertising campaign and ticked which countries they wanted to reach. In the end they got most of their likes from Romania and India even though these countries were not on their list. Was there a ‘click bug’ in the system?

I used to share my blog posts on LinkedIn’s platform Pulse. The way that the posts are distributed makes no sense at all. Some get picked up by LinkedIn’s random algorithm, or the so-called LinkedIn Pulse editors, and some are well hidden and hardly get any views or engagement at all. What is the logic behind this, and can it be trusted?

I also wonder why there is a certain author whose posts always appear in the ‘read next’ section on Pulse. After reading more about the issue it turns out that I’m not the only one who always see Travis Bradberry’s posts. It would be interesting to know why the algorithm prefers his posts.

Are the big advertising-driven online companies delivering what they claim? Can we trust them?

I am not sure we can.

The technology behind how content is distributed feels very random to me. Would a standard management system help to control the governance of services customers pay a lot of money for?

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