Social media behemoth Facebook has been accused - not for the first time - of grossly exaggerating its user numbers and usage.
The claims come as Facebook shifts its strategy in a bid to become a more broad-based media company, not just a social media player earning money through online advertising. This is reflected in a recent failed $600m bid to win five-year broadcasting rights to the Indian Premier League cricket.
The claims have been made by Brian Wieser, an analyst at Pivotal Research Group, in research released this week. "Through Facebook's Ads Manager, we can see that Facebook claims a potential reach within the US of 41 million 18-24 year olds, 60 million 25-34 year olds and 61 million 35-49 year olds.
"By contrast, US Census data indicates that last year there are a total of 31 million 18-24 year-olds, 45 million 25-34 year-olds and 61 million 35-49 year-olds," suggested Wieser in his research paper, which has been seen by V3.
He continued: "Conversations with agency executives on this topic indicate to us that the gap between Facebook and Census figures is not widely known."
Facebook claims it reaches 7.8m 18-24 year olds in the U.K. Just one problem. There is only 5.8m of them in the country. #Facebook— Harriet Sergeant (@HarrietSergeant) September 7, 2017
Facebook also claims to reach 7.8 million 18-24 year olds in the UK when there are only 5.8 million in the country, according to the last census.
Wieser added: "While Facebook's measurement issues won't necessarily deter advertisers from spending money with Facebook, they will help traditional TV sellers justify existing budget shares and could restrain Facebook's growth in video ad sales on the margins. More significantly, we think that awareness of general measurement issues causes larger advertisers to require the use of third party measurement services."
However, the claims lend weight to suggestions that Facebook usage and user numbers have been over-estimated by the social media giant, or that the company has taken a creative interpretation of usage. For example, including content embedded on third-party sites, such as Facebook ‘Like' buttons.
Indeed, it is not the first time that Facebook has been accused of exaggeration, Wieser pointed out: "While we think the company is positioning itself to compete for TV budgets with TV-like content, we think that the large marketers who dominate TV advertising will only do so after applying significant scrutiny to the metrics associated with Facebook campaigns.
"Measurement issues at Facebook have been top-of-mind for many of those same marketers over the past year given revelations around over-stated average video viewing time, video viewing completions, miscalculations of organic page reach and other data which impacts how budgets are planned."
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