There were more than a few questions from the media Tuesday on a recent story on how Facebook inflated a key video metric, as well as other inquiries concerning how the company intends to monetize Instagram and data collection on WhatsApp.
Sheryl Sandberg, the firm’s chief operating officer, opened the press-only Q&A, which took place in Midtown Manhattan at The Andaz Hotel, by sharing the news that Facebook now hits 4 million advertisers. She credited Facebook’s adaptation to mobile and the opportunity that large and small businesses have to reach advertisers.
“Facebook’s pages have become the solution for small businesses around the world with 16 million small businesses using those pages and then onboarding 4 million of them to become advertisers,” she said.
But everyone already knows about Facebook’s dominance — that’s not a new story. What is new is a recent report that the social media giant overestimated for two years the average time users spent watching videos on its platform, a metric that is integral in selling advertising.
Carolyn Everson, vice president of global marketing solutions, addressed the report, explaining that when Facebook discovered a video metric error in mid-August, it “corrected it immediately” and notified clients.
Everson said the metric, which was one of 14, was scarcely used by clients and that it “did not impact return on investment or billing.” The company added new metrics including third-party verification. “At the core of what we do is trust and transparency,” she said.
But the answer wasn’t enough. Why wasn’t Facebook transparent in mid-August? Why was the news leaked from a Facebook client in late September, and not communicated openly to the press?
“It’s a great question,” Everson said. “Let me go through some of the learnings. One learning is that we called clients and agencies and put it on our dashboard and the help center. It was clearly not enough. That was a very big learning.”
Company policy is now to “let the press know” about these sorts of things, she said.
Another big Facebook story was then addressed, namely a recent ruling from a German court that ordered the company to stop collecting data from its messaging service WhatsApp.
“We work with regulators all over the world and we are in compliance with law in everywhere we operate,” Sandberg said. “This is obviously new and we are going to work closely with them to resolve it.”
The company noted that it’s still early days to monetize WhatsApp and that it’s focused on building audience, a sort of party line that Facebook delivered several times during the talk.
When asked if Facebook would monetize Live video, a new product that many publishers have integrated into their pages, Sandberg offered: “We’re in the really early stages. Video content and content is really growing on Facebook and we’re really excited about that…monetization is not to be expected for now.”
Andrew Bosworth, vice president of ads and business platform added: “The way we approach monetization in general to our products, is the first thing we do is build products that are great for consumers, that they find highly engaging that they’re willing to work with. And then we allow businesses to organically participate in a way that feels really good to both them and the consumers in the ecosystem. Then, much later on, we think about how to build a business model that aligns our incentive with businesses and consumers.”
That strategy has largely served Facebook well except for when it comes to retail conversion. In order to amp up its offering to retailers, Facebook is doubling down on dynamic ads. “Retailers have long been a really important set of partners for us and they have used Facebook Solutions for quite some time to drive their business,” said David Fischer, vice president of business and marketing partnerships. “One of the challenges has been conversion, particularly on mobile, so we’ve invested in solutions around that.”
The investment in dynamic ads allows Facebook to take information from a client and use it for retailers. “Imagine the example of walking down the street near Macy’s and I was on macys.com last and saw these shoes. They can say, ‘Oh, here are these shoes, here’s a map and there’s a store a block away. Let us bring you in,’” he said.
The combination of information about product and location may help Facebook increase conversion, the executive said, while noting that there are hurdles in mobile commerce, such as slow sites and difficult search on mobile.
The topic veered to Instagram and whether Facebook would monetize Instagram Stories, which launched two months ago and is largely seen as a competitor to Snapchat’s vanishing storytelling. Thus far, the company has had difficulty getting consumers to make purchases via Instagram through its ‘buy’ button, but Stories could become an opportunity.
James Quarles, vice president of monetization at Instagram, pointed to recent innovative business uses. He highlighted J. Crew’s use of Instant Stories to have a 24-hour sale on a pair of sunglasses.
“I think people will integrate it into the rest of their campaigns over time,” he said. “I think as those brand and business examples mature and the consumer element lands, I think we will come to a place and say, ‘Here is a solution for business.’”