Sheryl Sandberg: 'Content policy on Facebook is challenging'

In a press Q&A, Facebook discusses video ad metrics, editorial judgment, and ads with sound.

NEW YORK: On Tuesday, Facebook announced that the platform has 4 million advertisers, and once again apologized to all of them.

Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook had miscalculated video ad metrics, and ad agency executives criticized the network for not having third-party verification in place.  

At a panel event for the press on Tuesday, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg led a Q&A in which the network’s recent controversies were brought up, including the miscalculation of ad metrics and mishaps in the network’s editorial control.

On the panel was Andrew Bosworth, VP of ads and business platform; David Fisher, VP of business and marketing partnerships; and Carolyn Everson, VP of global marketing solutions. Also part of the panel was James Quarles, VP of monetization at Instgram.

The Q&A followed the Leadership in a Mobile World conference held at Town Hall in which Sandberg joined Mary Barra, chairman and CEO of General Motors, and Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer of Procter & Gamble.

Video ad metrics
On stage on Monday, Bosworth called the platform’s miscalculation of its video ad metrics a "regrettable mistake."

"It’s a bug in the code, highly embarrassing and we feel bad about it," he said.

The apology was echoed at the press panel on Tuesday. Everson said the platform would take more strides to tell the public about future mishaps.

"When we called clients and agencies," she said, "it was clearly not enough. That was a lesson learned."

Although Facebook is regretful, Everson said proxy metrics, including how many people advertisers reach, how many views a post receives, and how long users engage with an app should not be where advertisers are looking. It’s a process the industry has used for "decades," said Everson.

"What we are trying to do is get away from proxy metrics, to metrics that actually matter when driving business," she said. "At the end of the day, what the end client really cares is if we are driving products off the shelves or are we moving cars off the lot." A recent BBDO study goes into why 97% of brands are still relying on likes, views, and engagement time.

It’s an education process according to Everson.

"I think this is going to be an ongoing evolution until we agree to move to more business-outcome metrics," she said. 

Regardless, Everson said Facebook will continue to deliver these proxy metrics, and the 13 other metrics on the dashboard were always available and accurate.

Editorial control
Earlier this month Facebook took down a Vietnam War-era photo of a naked girl running from a napalm attack because of Facebook’s rules against nudity. Users saw this move as a way to restrain free speech. Even the prime minister of Norway wrote a letter to Facebook

At the panel, Sandberg called the situation an "extreme example" of the challenging ethical decisions the network has to make every day.

"Content policy on Facebook is challenging," she said. "We are balancing free expression and a safe community."

According to Sandberg, posts that do follow the platform’s community standards are first evaluated to see whether they are newsworthy before taken down. But after users got angry over Facebook’s use of humans to control their Trending News section, the platform has replaced those humans with algorithms.

"One of the theories out there is that we are controlling the news," said Sandberg. "We’re not a media company; we don’t have an editorial team deciding what’s on the front page. Our algorithms determine that based on the connections you have."

However, Sandberg said there is still a need for human interaction. Otherwise, she said, "around noon every day, the only things that would be trending are what people are having for lunch."

Sound on or sound off?
On Monday, Snap Inc. chief strategy officer Imran Khan took the stage at Advertising Week discussing the rebrand of the company previously known as Snapchat and the upcoming Snapchat Spectacles. He also announced that the company has 60 million daily active users in the U.S. and Canada, a third of Facebook’s 175 million. Khan pointed out that the company does not believe in videos without sound.

"We believe you cannot show an ad without sound," he said. "A video ad without sound is not a video; it’s a moving banner."

While Facebook has found that 50% of videos on Facebook are consumed with sound on, according to Everson, it still recommends that advertisers look at both options.

"We understood from a consumer perspective that a lot of them were consuming with sound," said Everson. "But, I think marketers in this environment need to think about both sound-on and sound-off for their creative work."

Everson did say Facebook was testing more video ads with sound. However, she said, "Even if we go to a sound-on environment, that would not mean that every video consumed would be in a sound-on manner, and it’s all a consumer choice."

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