Webtrends Feeds Facebook Data Craving

Facebook is a big deal to marketers but measuring what goes on there has been somewhat elusive, in some cases limiting their interest in investing in Facebook efforts. A new analytics offering from Webtrends aims to improve Facebook measurement, which could benefit both firms.

While Facebook offers its own analytics system, most marketers agree it’s spare – providing information such as demographic and geographic data on fans of a branded page or how many comments were made about posts, for instance. And because Facebook does not enable JavaScript, analytics platforms and tags used commonly across the Web don’t work on Facebook, leaving marketers reliant upon the Facebook data only, or clunky workarounds for adding third-party tags.

Indeed, one reason so many brands have created apps for Facebook is because it’s a great way to track their Facebook-related interactions with users while on the Facebook platform, without being subject to its restrictive terms and conditions. In addition to allowing for collection of personal data, the applications allow for analytics tags, enabling marketers to track user interactions and view an application’s impact on a broader campaign.

“To get any data, they had to push people to an app,” said Justin Kistner, senior manager social media marketing at Webtrends. The company’s new offering can now track interaction with custom tabs, and things like the number of times a brand-related link is shared with a friend, how many times people click on it, and how that may have influenced interactions on a company blog or Twitter. The service also enables ad conversion tracking.

“This view of Facebook can be looked at in comparison to other channels as well,” explained Jascha Kaykas-Wolff, VP marketing at Webtrends. The ability to view Facebook interactions and their effect on other channels through one report is key to the new service. The company recently tested the offering through its own Facebook fan page B2B campaign.

“[Webtrends] are trying to make this a strong hook for using Webtrends in the first place,” said David Berkowitz, senior director of emerging media and innovation at digital agency 360i. “The case for measuring social media better keeps getting stronger and the needs get more pronounced,” he added. “I expect an analytics arms race.”

Competitor Omniture offers a Facebook app measurement service, but it appears the Webtrends product is the first other than Facebook Insights to allow for measurement right within Facebook itself.

“This news really supports digital companies being able to say…I know we have a way to actually quantify what we’re doing on Facebook,” said Greg Levine, technical director at Portland-based social media agency CMD. Levine explained that convincing some clients to dive deep into Facebook marketing has been difficult, in part because they’ve worried about being able to measure ROI.

Workarounds enabling marketers to employ Google Analytics or other analytics tags to track Facebook campaigns do exist. London Web development firm Webdigi caught attention of data junkies this week through the workaround it created that enables Google Analytics tags on Facebook by replacing JavaScript with an image.

Webtrends argues such image-based workarounds run the risk of interception by Facebook after a few impressions are recorded, meaning they may not track all impressions. The measurement firm said it worked with the Facebook developer network to ensure the new tracking service would be fully functional.

The company will make the offering available to customers using its Analytics 9 platform, and expects it could help attract new clients. Still, Facebook itself may roll out new analytics services itself in time. “We fully expect that over time they’re going to be making more investment in their analytics,” suggested Kaykas-Wolff.

Facebook has become more attuned to the needs of marketers, but has been less than speedy when it comes to rolling out new measurement capabilities, said Berkowitz.

Next week Webtrends plans to unveil “Flashbook” tracking, which could prove valuable to companies using the Facebook-approved Flash rich media technology in campaigns.

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