Facebook Insights & the dilemma of Like Sources for a Fan Page

[Originally posted on Analytics.ae which is now discontinued and merged into Digitalks.me]

Facebook Insights as a tool is highly confusing & frustrating when it comes to understanding the Sources of Page Likes for a Brand page. It is so unclear that it is difficult to understand that it provides data about Like Sources or the physical locations of Like Boxes that appear on various places with Facebook’s interface. It leaves us in a catch-22 situation at various data points but by hook or by crook we have to learn about how to deal with it.

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this blog post I explained what are the different sources of Page Likes and explanations of each source as per documents provided by Facebook. I showed various examples of inconsistent use label names used in online tool, field names used in Excel export file and then different explanatory names & confusing definitions found in various online documentations provided by Facebook.

This inconsistency and confusing language constitutes to a bigger state of dilemma about sources of page likes. What Facebook explains in theory (within documents) doesn’t make sense in practical when we analyze the data in depth & beyond Facebook Insights.

Let’s see some examples:

Example 1: Likes attribution to Mobile vs. Ads & Sponsored Stories

Mobile – People who liked your Page from a mobile device

Ads & Sponsored Stories – People who clicked “Like” in an Ad or Sponsored Story pointing to your Page. This does not include likes that occurred on the Page after clicking on or viewing your ad

Above are the three places where the Like Box appears primarily within the native iOS app for Facebook. First two are Sponsored ads that appear within the news feed and third one appears when a user visits a brand page that he has not liked earlier (like through searching). So in theory any Page Like generated through any of first two options should be attributed to “Ads and Sponsored” stories and not in the “Mobile”. But the case is just opposite:

This is a daily trended view of Page Likes from the data downloaded from Excel export of Facebook Insights. We ran a Facebook Ad campaign from 17-July to 20-August and when this data is plotted in Excel it becomes visible immediately that Likes from Mobile devices are highly likely to be coming from Facebook Ad campaign that we ran. Facebook is wrongly bucketing/attributing these Likes to “Mobile” in above case which completely skews our analysis about which sources of Page Likes are effective for us. Now I cannot consider all the Likes coming in from mobile as through Ads because there is definitely a portion of Organic Likes in it as well. Facebook merges both paid & organic in one common bucket “Mobile” and we cannot segment this data.

Example 2 : Likes attribution to On Page vs. Ads & Sponsored Stories

Do you want to know that how many Fans ORGANICALLY Like your Facebook Brand Page after visiting the page? Many of clients I work with also use offline mediums to advertise their Facebook page, for example think a print ad in the local newspaper with Facebook address on it or may be a TVC with a call to action to go Facebook page. We can analyze if Page Likes are increasing after we ran the TV campaign and it is easy to attribute those new Likes to TV campaign but what if there is also an ad campaign running on Facebook at same time?  So it is important to know how many Likes came from Ads & Sponsored stories so we can do the math do get the answer we need.

According to Facebook all the Likes that are attributed to “Ads & Sponsored” stories DOES NOT include the Likes ON THE PAGE that occurred AFTER clicking on or viewing an ad.

So technically Ads & Sponsored Stories Likes =  who Like the Page from the Ad Unit itself

Do users really like the Brand Page from the Ad Unit itself ? Really?  To understand more about the typical behavior of a Facebook user in this context I didn’t had access to any research but I surveyed more than 50 colleagues trying to understand what is the typical behavior they will take to Like a Brand Page after they see an ad in right navigation of Facebook and 87% of them said they will click on the Ad to go to the Page and then Like it. Although the sample size is too tiny in against of 1 Billion Facebook accounts but I still go with this (you can opt to not!). Keeping this in mind when I plot the data to a simple trend chart I saw below results.

Ok – my assumption was wrong – a lot of fan seems to Like the Page right from the ad unit itself (why? Are you a loyal fan? Or a prize hunter?) but at the same time it is clearly noticeable that a lot of Fans also like the Page directly after clicking from the ad and going to the page but Facebook attributes such Likes to “On Page” and not “Ads & Sponsored Stories”. Now this means that the numbers reported by Facebook Insights as Likes from Ads and Sponsored stories are not correct and should be taken with a pinch of salt. So in reality we don’t know how many actual fans we acquired from Paid Ads. Funny, right?

Example 3: Likes attribution to Ticker vs. Friend Referrals

Facebook is a viral platform – every action a user takes has a viral action. Gone are those days when every social action of my friends also used to appear on my News Feed including when they Like some other Page but thanks to Facebook’s Edgerank algorithm this viral action which was so important before now has a very limited visibility. Now this notification is primarily limited to Ticker that appears in right side of my Facebook wall (if it is sponsored then in my news feed as well) and probably just a few friends will see this action in their news feed organically – chances are that these friends who see this action are not very active on Facebook and their news feed is not yet cluttered like mine.

My clients always ask me that how viral is their Facebook page and the first question they ask is that do friends of fans like the Page as well? To find answer to this question we can simply pull data for Friend Referrals but unfortunately that data is also crap in my opinion for below reason.

So one of my friends Likes a page for “The Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center” and that appeared as a notification in the ticker. On mouse over on this story an overlay pop-up appears which shows a some more information about the page my friend liked and shows a Like Box using which I can also like this Page. Such Likes are attributed to “Ticker” in Facebook Insights and not as “Friend Referrals”. So to answer my client’s question I know I have to merge the two sources into one.

Above are just 3 examples and there are many more like those in Facebook Insights. Facebook needs to rethink the attribution of Likes and think it from a marketer point of view and not their own platform. I think they should provide data in 5 primary buckets:

  • Paid Sources – All Likes from all Paid sources (with ability to segment paid ads & sponsored stories)
  • Organic Sources – All Likes from Organic sources (Search, On Page, Timeline, etc.)
  • Viral Sources – Likes which are generated through viral actions (friend referrals, on photo, hovercard, etc.)
  • 3rd Party Apps – with ability to segment by app ID or app name
  • Like Box & Like Button – with ability to segment by referrer source

Now it’s your turn – tell me what you think of above, how do you use Facebook Like Sources data, what you think about this blog post series, is this post worth a read, or something else  you want to share? Write your comments below. 

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