Facebook Analytics: Part II – Vendor Solutions

Published by John Lovett on March 18, 2010 All posts from John Lovett

Earlier this week we described the Facebook Analytics Ecosystem and some of the ways in which businesses can go about measuring components of the social networking empire. Today, we reveal two key pieces of additional information that will help organizations: a. Understand the benefits of measuring Facebook (a necessary element in forming social marketing business objectives) and b. Identify vendors that offer measurement solutions for Facebook.

DISCLOSURE: Web Analytics Demystified works with many web analytics vendors including some of those discussed in this post. We rarely disclose our clients publicly but for the sake of transparency wanted the reader to know that we do have a financially beneficial relationship with three of these vendors and a mutually beneficial relationship with all four.

Three Business Benefits of Measuring Facebook

To demystify the ways in which businesses can measure, understand and capitalize on the growing Facebook phenomenon, we identified three pillars of Facebook measurement. These three pillars identify the “what”, the “who” and the “cha-ching” of marketing within Facebook.

    1. Observe Interactions: What are people on Facebook doing? This essential component of Facebook measurement includes the ability to track anonymous user information such as visits, friends, comments, likes and exposure across pages, custom tabs and applications. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

    2. Understand Demographics: Who are all these people on Facebook? In addition to knowing what they do, it’s important to know who Facebook users are to segment the massive population on attributes such as user ID, gender, age, education level, work experience, marital status or geographic information. Facebook is very protective of user privacy and many limitations apply here as well.

    3. Impact Conversions: How can businesses cash in on Facebook marketing? This includes the ability to associate impressions and exposure within Facebook back to conversion events on external sites. And the ability to target advertising within Facebook based on observations and demographic data, while maintaining the ability to track viewthroughs and conversions offsite. This too requires extensive development and fancy footwork to make it happen so we’ll explain shortly.

Vendor Capabilities For Measuring Facebook

As mentioned in Part I of our series on Facebook Analytics, several of the major web analytics vendors are vying for position to deliver Facebook measurement capabilities. While we have not yet reached Facebook directly for comment, we concluded that no single vendor is likely to gain a long-term competitive advantage over the rest of the market for measuring Facebook. The partnership established between Omniture and Facebook does provide some short-term gains because Omniture is able to leverage a direct relationship with Facebook developers to fully utilize data provided by existing APIs; still, all of the vendors interviewed for this research informed us that they were actively engaged in talks with Facebook. Further, Web Analytics Demystified strongly believes that it is not in Facebooks’ best interest to lock into exclusive vendor agreements or partnerships because of the risk of alienating significant portions of their business population using disparate tools.

Here’s what we know:
Facebook Analytics Vendor Capabilities_Updated

Facebook Insights

Facebook Insights offers aggregate views of behavioral and demographic data across a number of areas within the ecosystem. The Wall Insights show behavioral and demographic info on unique Fan interactions and all Fan visits. While the offering is great for the price, one thing we heard repeatedly is that the data is sampled and slow in coming, sometimes delayed up to three days.

To Facebook’s credit they appear to be constantly working to improve the quality of insights they provide. Mashable broke unofficial news again this morning by reporting that Facebook is offering more analytics detail to page admins through weekly email alerts. These reports reveal new fan counts, page views comments and likes over the week.

Most useful for: Companies unwilling to invest in “pro tools” for Facebook measurement. Facebook Insights does offer value so if you’ve got no other measurement prospects then what they’re offering is better than no data at all.

Coremetrics

Coremetrics’ Facebook announcement described their ability to determine Facebook’s influence on site visits and conversions, which melds nicely with their impression attribution tool. This slick capability allows Coremetrics to reveal vendor, category, placement and item data collected from within Facebook back to the Coremetrics Analytics interface. They do this using image tags and claim that caching happens infrequently, yet they circumvent these occurrences with cache busters.

Server-side rendering of image tags allows Facebook to segment and report on attributed data. This allows Coremetrics’ users to see how interaction with specific tabs led to web site engagement and conversions. While technically possible for them, Coremetrics hasn’t dedicated focus on reporting user interactions within Facebook in their interface. Instead, they’ve honed in on the ability to understand how the social networking site acts as a feeder channel to their customers’ primary web properties.

Most useful for: Companies heavily focused on Facebook as an advertising channel. Coremetrics is a good choice for clients that are not heavily invested in Facebook, but more interested in understanding how it compliments their other online acquisition marketing efforts.

Omniture

Omniture’s view on measuring Facebook is simple: Understand your audience > Target them with advertising > Optimize the message. They enable this by focusing on the custom tabs, apps and ads within Facebook. Their most recent announcements touted their partnership with Facebook to enable ad creation and demographic targeting directly within their Search Center Plus solution. This works through an Omniture Genesis integration that also enables even more granular behavioral and demographic data collection. We previewed each of these solutions in working demos, and both are scheduled for general release later this year (with the Genesis offering likely tied to the rumored announcements at Facebook f8.) Clients today are targeting with limited profile information specific to gender with product ads.

Omniture has also developed a “Facebook JavaScript” (FBJS) measurement library that allows them to track behavior data natively within Facebook, and despite competitor’s claims Omniture pointed out that they’ve been doing this since May of 2009. They also deploy output and image tags, which occurs less frequently, and for permissioned applications Omniture is collecting a bevy of demographic data that will appear within Discover for slice and dice ability. They’ve also created default segments within Discover showing pathing reports for: visitors acquired from Facebook (conversion); visitors from Facebook (impressions); and known Facebook users (user association).

Most useful for: Companies that have not yet fully determined what their approach towards Facebook will be. Given the breadth of their capabilities Omniture is a good choice for companies looking to better understand how user’s interact with the platform and the demographic make-up of their audience in Facebook, and with the SearchCenter Plus release, Omniture has the potential to dramatically improve customer’s ability to purchase laser-targeted advertising on the platform.

Unica

Unica has been noticeably quiet during the Facebook Analytics Wars but we’re not shy so we called ‘em out and asked them to weigh in on their capabilities. It turns out that they too have been measuring Facebook for some time using both dynamic and static image tags. They’re collecting strictly according to Facebook’s published rules but include unique user IDs and other attributes such as friend counts from visitors to their custom tabs. They also get app data for average viewing time, views, visits and visitors – all passed to Unica’s NetInsight interface.

Unica is taking a very conservative approach to the demographic data and like some others, waiting for a ruling from Facebook before developing capabilities in that area. While that capability is waiting in the wings, Unica’s longer term vision may include integration with their new search technology and conversion pathing visualizations.

Most useful for: Companies using other of Unica’s Affinium products and companies needing in-house analytical capabilities. Unica customers looking to develop or advertise within Facebook should explore the vast customization possibilities with Unica directly.

Webtrends

Webtrends is aggressively working to deliver social analytics solutions to their customers and also walking the Facebook talk. Their own corporate Facebook fan pages are the most developed of all vendors interviewed and they use these pages to test concepts and showcase capabilities. Webtrends also takes a conservative approach to data collection and privacy by adhering strictly to the letter of Facebook law, thus collecting and displaying fewer demographic attributes.

In their own words Webtrends has been “throwing the book” at the Facebook API to obtain as much data as their published documentation allows, which includes: views, visits, bounce rates and time on site for Facebook shares, ads, apps and custom tabs. Webtrends refutes the long-term feasibility and accuracy of image tags and cache busting techniques within Facebook. And they’ve responded by developing a proprietary solution that uses a data call to pass parameters from the data collection API. This method captures all the typical data as well as flash, pop-ups and other custom fields with the potential to do a whole lot more if the data collection restrictions ease. But before you go snooping for details, Webtrends informed us they have filed a patent for this new method of data collection.

Most useful for: Companies that want to gain deep visibility into interactions within the Facebook ecosystem. Webtrends has the potential to be very useful for social media marketers who are actively developing and tracking social media behavior in Facebook.

Questions to ask your vendor…

While some aspects of these Facebook measurement solutions have been around for a while, they are still very much nascent. Nearly all of the capabilities described above – as best we can tell – are deployed via customized consulting engagements with each vendor and likely will be for the foreseeable future. Keep this in mind as you think about pricing, development resources and timing.

Also, because Facebook is changing its rules and these solutions are largely custom consulting jobs, please don’t even think about buying anything before you see it in action. Have the vendor demonstrate the functionality you’re looking for using live customer data. While mock data and in-house examples are fine for some purposes, ask to see real-world data or decide whether you want to be the test subject.

Additionally here are a few questions that we recommend you pose to vendors when seeking out a Facebook Analytics solution:

  1. How long have you had an active measurement solution in place for Facebook?
  2. How many active customers do you have using your Facebook measurement capabilities?
  3. Can we speak with two or three of your customers actively using your Facebook measurement capabilities?
  4. Do you adhere to Facebook’s published data collection, storage and privacy regulations?
  5. Are you using your solution to measure your own Facebook efforts? Can we see your data?
  6. Do you have documented PHP and FBJS libraries that we are able to deploy on our own?
  7. How long, on average, do your Facebook measurement deployments take start to finish?
  8. Do I need to be a customer to purchase your Facebook measurement solution?
  9. Which Facebook profile data can you import into your application? Can we see it in your application?
  10. Which of your solutions are required to leverage your Facebook measurement solution?

As always I welcome your comments, thoughts, and opinions about this exciting aspect of digital measurement. And if you think we got something wrong, please do let us know!

Categorized under Social Media Measurement, Web 2.0

  • http://blogs.webtrends.com/ Justin Kistner

    John, you’ve clearly done your homework and this is a most impressive early view into the comparisons of the offerings in this space. 2010 is shaping up to be a pivotal year for social analytics, especially around Facebook, and it’s helpful to get your perspective.

    Since the current policy is that the demographic data that you collect from calling on Facebook profiles isn’t storable for more than 24 hours, we don’t offer those reports to our clients. I’m looking forward to demoing again with you on Monday to show that our analytics engine can provide detailed demographics and if Facebook does indeed change its storable data policies at F8 as rumors suggest, we’ll release those capabilities to our customers.

    I’m curious why you have our conversion capabilities marked as on the roadmap? We have path analysis capabilities for advertising driven conversions that happen inside or outside of Facebook.

    This is great research to begin opening up the understanding of this market more. I know you mentioned that you were doing another piece about customers. Were you planning to do a deeper dive into the metrics that can be measured by these solutions as well?

  • http://john.webanalyticsdemystified.com John

    Hi Justin, Thanks for your comments.

    Yes, this is an early view and we expect things to change quickly and often. I too am looking forward to seeing more from you on Monday. At that time, let’s discuss the conversion capabilities for advertising. I will update the matrix as necessary. As you can imagine, pulling all this research together was a substantial undertaking…so if we didn’t see it in demo or have it in our notes, it didn’t make the grid. While I’m not committing to making changes every time FB changes policy, I certainly want to get this first one right.

    Thanks again for your contributions to this research.
    John

  • http://www.rudishumpert.com Rudi Shumpert

    John,

    Great post work here! It’s obvious that a lot of time and effort has gone into this research. Thank you for doing this and sharing you results.

    -Rudi
    @rrs_atl

  • Alvin

    Thanks for the great posting, John. It finally gives marketers the ROI promise on their Social Media Marketing efforts. :-)

    Would you please define what “Detailed Impression Path from FB to Site” is. Since “impression” is not the same as “click”, does it mean FB users view (not click) the ad on facebook and go to advertiser’s website through different paths (ex: search engine, direct, etc)?

    Thank you

  • http://john.webanalyticsdemystified.com John

    @Alvin – Yes, the impression path is akin to view-through which may happen within the same session, but typically doesn’t. Hopefully that helps. Thanks for your comment.

    @Rudi – Glad you enjoyed the post. Keep up the good work yourself!

    On another note…I updated the matrix above with new information that just surfaced today.

    Please let me know if there are more questions. I’ll be keeping up with developments as they happen and hopefully update after F8 with new info from Facebook as it becomes available.

    Cheers,
    John

  • Richard

    Great blog post John, Facebook Insights is pretty useful but have you guys seen Mixpanel? We use it for our social games on Facebook and it does really well. Check it out http://mixpanel.com

    We really love the real-time stuff.

  • http://www.kontagent.com Albert Lai

    Hey John,
    This is a fantastic overview.

    As you saw today, we launched v1.5 of the Kontagent Facebook Analytics platform (http://www.kontagent.com), built from the ground up for the social/facebook web enviroment.

    We’ve been in development since nearly day 1 of the platform, and tested in field in various forms since early 2008).

    We’re tracking over 50 Million Monthly Active Users (more than any other player in the space), and have some of the most successful Facebook developers using our platform.

    Would be delighted to give you a demo/briefing of it sometime in the future!

    albert lai
    co-founder / co-ceo
    kontagent

  • http://john.webanalyticsdemystified.com John

    Hi Albert,

    Thanks for the comment and congratulations on the launch of Kontagent v1.5 and your new funding.

    I’m very interested in learning more about your solution and the trends your seeing across Facebook. With tracking across 50 million users, you effectively capture over 12% of FB users. That’s massive! The potential you have for segmentation and trending across your clients’ user population offers a playground of data and insight opportunities.

    I’ll reach out directly to set up a time to chat.

    Thanks,
    John

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