Facebook Explains Its New Real-Time Insights

More Data From Pages And What That Means for Marketers

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In a matter of days, Facebook will begin rolling out a real-time version of Page Insights, the analytics tool that allows brands to keep tabs on their Facebook presence. Recently, Insights has been much maligned for reporting delays, but that should all be quieted with instantaneous reporting on page and post performance that will give brands a much improved level of control.

To figure out what this means, I chatted with Facebook Product Manager David Baser. Here are some highlights:

What real-time insights means for Facebook, and you
Facebook's billion-dollar (or $100 billion, according its IPO filings) proposition is that engagement on the massively popular social network drives business results. The best way to get engagement -- whether likes, comment or shares -- is for a brand to take actions that make its page more appealing to users. And the way to get there, Mr. Baser said, is through a constantly updated tally of how many people that content is reaching, how many people are interacting with it, and what form that interaction takes.

"Changes in data can drive immediate action," Mr. Baser said. "For example, you might want to change a post that 's getting a lot of distribution but not engagement. A post with a lot of engagement is maybe one to pin to the top of the page. With real-time, the underlying meaning of metrics are changed. You see what happens, and then you take actions. The data itself becomes a form of analysis."

Facebook announced this real-time capability on Feb. 29 at Facebook Marketing Conference, amid mounting complaints over updating delays on Insights, sometimes in excess of four days. The issue even got its own website, Why Is Facebook Insights Not Working.

Tweaking your posts on the fly as audiences are seeing them isn't possible with these kinds of delays, so when Mr. Baser calls this "a game-changer" it doesn't feel like a stretch.

Asked whether there's a threat of information overload and possibly sacrificing the long-view with all the immediate feedback, Mr. Baser said that the performance of posts is dependent on in-the-moment attention. He added that all historical information will still be available.

"This is about adding functionality, not removing it," he said.

While real-time data is vital, having a long-view is important for benchmarking purposes as we'll see below.

How to think about consumer activity on Facebook
As it's grown more sophisticated as a marketing channel, Facebook has introduced a number of metrics that , aside from the ubiquitous and self-explanatory "like," can be slightly confusing. But understanding the difference between concepts such as People Talking About This and Engaged Users is vital to grasping how performance on Facebook impacts business results.

People Talking About This counts activities that generate a story in a timeline. Examples include: liking, commenting or sharing, tagging, check-ins or rsvp'ing to an event.

On the other hand, Engaged Users, a bigger count than PTAT, includes all the nonstory-generating actions people can take. For example, clicking on a link, watching a video or clicking on a photo don't generate stories but are important actions nonetheless. This is stuff that , mercifully, doesn't end up in your timeline but is still valuable to brands.

PTAT is crucial because it's a reflection of how well your content is engaging the Facebook community. It's both an engagement and a word-of -mouth metric. But Engaged Users can be key, too. "For certain business objectives, Engaged Users may be a high priority," said Mr. Baser, offering the hypothetical example of the entertainment marketer trying to get people to watch a movie trailer.

A recent hot-button issue has been the relationship between PTAT and likes Ad Age recently reported on research showing that only about 1% of people who like the most popular brand pages actually talk about the page. This has prompted a lot of is -the-glass-half-empty-or-half-full analyses. For some, that 1% is pathetically small; for others, it's quite large when you consider the fan bases of the biggest brands.

Facebook, unsurprisingly, comes out in the latter camp. "When you talk about PTAT," said Mr. Baser, "you're talking about an explicit action to share content about your page with a friend, which is a meaningful thing to do. 1 to 3% is not all that low at all compared to click-through rate on ads and it's at a fairly large scale. You may think it might look pretty small, but they're meaningful numbers."

Mr. Baser said there is no universal guideline for what the like-PTAT ratio should be. It will vary by page, industry, and a number of other factors. It's up to brands to benchmark their performance and see how it changes over time in relationship to company activity. For instance, it's probably best not to compare PTAT activity around a product launch or a big marketing campaign to a relative lull.

Looking for more data?
You're in luck. Insights has an export feature that will cough up more than 1,000 additional columns of data that can't, for obvious reasons, be supported by the user interface. This trove includes data on a number of video views over the past week or number of clicks on photos the past month. Facebook helps its larger clients understand the data, but it still hasn't done a product guide on how to use all this information.

"Partly that 's because the export is so large at this time; we need to simplify it a little bit," said Mr. Baser.

So, what's next?
Part of the functionality Facebook is planning to add to Insights is granular information on how paid campaigns on Facebook are affecting pages. "We're working on the ability to attribute actions taken on the page back to the ad campaign" he said. "We'll be able to let brands see how many stories about your page came through the paid campaign."

This feature is now in limited, internal testing. Mr. Baser wouldn't say when it would be rolled out.

Facebook is giving you more information, faster. Ideally, it will allow you to be more responsive to your audience. This goes hand-in-hand with other recent moves by the social network, including the brand page redesign also announced at the Facebook Marketing Conference. That change, which enables big cover photos and the pinning of posts, has been adopted by 8 million pages in the week after the conference, according to a Facebook spokeswoman.

To show the impact, she gave some stats on Ford's Mustang page since it switched. Its total daily reach increased 17%, its Daily Page Engaged Users increased 30% and its daily People Talking About This shot up by 53%.

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