Facebook Analytics: Part I – The Measurable Ecosystem
2010 is shaping up to be the year of social media measurement and March is the month for measuring Facebook. While most of the major analytics vendors have been working on their Facebook measurement capabilities for some time; Webtrends, Coremetrics and Omniture all released significant advancements in their respective abilities to measure and analyze activity within the social networking juggernaut recently. These announcements created a frenzy of curiosity and confusion around what’s possible and what each vendor can deliver, so we were compelled to investigate. However, our inquiries exposed a world of complexity in terms of what’s measurable according to the emerging Facebook rules and exactly how organizations would benefit from measuring behavior within the walled social networking ecosystem.
In this first part of our two part series on Facebook Analytics, we will dissect the Facebook ecosystem of pages, tabs, applications, advertisements, and Facebook Connect functionality to reveal the do’s and don’ts of tracking visitor activity. While it may seem straightforward, some areas of the ecosystem are off limits to traditional tracking, while other areas can be measured with a high degree of detail. But in all cases, 3rd party measurement solutions must play by the Facebook rules, which we’ll begin to describe here. In Part II of this series, we’ll lay out a framework for how businesses can derive value from measuring their efforts within Facebook and we’ll take a deep dive into the specific capabilities of vendors that offer solutions for measuring Facebook today.
The Facebook Ecosystem
The Facebook ecosystem is comprised of many parts, some of which can be customized while others may not. This section will offer a brief description of each component within the ecosystem.
Facebook Page & Tabs
Facebook ads appear in the right hand column of your Facebook pages and can link to external web pages – or – within Facebook on tabs, applications, events or groups. Ads can be tracked using Facebook Insights or with traditional web analytics tags when the ad links out to external sites by using campaign ID codes. Ads follow a template format and offer some restrictions around size, text and images. Ads can be targeted according to nine filters including age, gender and keywords just to name a few. Ads can be purchased according to impressions or clicks providing options for businesses.
Facebook share options are surfacing across the web at an astounding rate. Much in the same way that you can share content trough social bookmarking sites or microblog formats, Facebook Share will populate a link within a users Wall page. Adding the Share link requires only one line of code and can drive traffic back to your site. Facebook even makes it simple by offering multiple Share icons to choose from.
Facebook Connect enables businesses and individuals to extend capabilities of Facebook including their identity and connections to the web at large (e,g., outside the Facebook ecosystem). In other words, Facebook Connect makes sharing content, conversations, images and social comments possible, both inside and outside the walls of Facebook. Some aspects of Facebook Connect are measurable when delivered outside the Facebook ecosystem, yet internal connections likely require custom solutions. Facebook Connect works through a set of APIs that quite frankly have the potential to make Facebook the epicenter of the digital universe. Below is an example of Facebook Connect in action and more examples are available here. I recommend checking out JCPenney’s “Beware the Doghouse” campaign that leverages Facebook Connect for a good laugh and a taste of how Connect can pull content, images and video from Facebook to create a rich multimedia experience.
Why is measuring the Facebook ecosystem so difficult?
The clock is ticking and tracking permission is opt in
To complicate matters, at this time Facebook does not permit the storage of user data acquired from Facebook for more than 24 hours. Although rumors are brewing that this may change. Exceptions to the 24 hour storage rule are documented in the Facebook developer site, but they are far from being crystal clear. Data stored in perpetuity may include User ID, Photo Album ID, email address, primary network ID and several other attributes noted here. This means that despite all the ways that you can get data out of Facebook Insights or through third party methods, their platform policies may prohibit long-term storage of that data. [If you choose to follow those rules]. However, Facebook has opened the floodgates to external measurement solutions for applications and advertisements…if… And this is a big IF… users grant permission to track and store data about them. This authorization is requested using a standard message shown in the screenshot below.
For users who are comfortable with tracking and aware that this happens on nearly every web site out there, it’s really no big deal. But I’m willing to guess that the abandon rate on most permission requests is astronomical. If you’ve got data on Facebook app abandon rates, I’d love to know.
Now that we’ve painted the big picture of the Facebook ecosystem and hinted at what’s possible in terms of measurement, it’s time to explore vendors that can actually measure all these moving parts. We’ll save the juicy details for Part II of this post, but leave you with some food for thought…
Measuring Facebook is no easy task. Despite the fact that over 400 million users access the site regularly, the visibility into the actions, behavior, and demographics is carefully guarded. Each of the vendors we
interviewed interrogated was highly sensitive to Facebook rules and the privacy of its citizens.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the ecosystem and if you think I missed anything, which is entirely possible given the complexity of Facebook. I welcome your comments and I hope you’ll visit again soon to learn how a small handful of major web analytics vendors are cracking the Facebook measurement ecosystem.