Facebook’s New Analytics For Apps: A Look Under The Hood
The social network's free service puts it head-to-head against Google in the analytics market, but is it game-changing? Columnist Josh Manion takes a look.
Facebook’s F8 conference for developers has become an event that’s closely watched for announcements of new directions the company is taking. The 2015 event was no exception.
As the two-day gathering in San Francisco closed at the end of March, Facebook offered more evidence that it believes its future is not just as a social network, but will continue to expand into an array of communications tools and services.
A case in point was the announcement of Facebook Analytics for Apps, a free analytics service.
The new tool clearly validates the importance of native mobile apps as a marketing channel and driver of revenue for brands. It also puts Facebook squarely in the analytics market, competing with Google, particularly among small-to-midsize (SMB) businesses.
Facebook data has historically been siloed within the company’s platform, which provided insights to marketers through its own dashboards and tracking of behaviors.
Now, the new tool extends basic analytics outside the Facebook “walled garden” and signals the social media giant is entering the digital marketing landscape in a clear way.
What Does It Do?
What exactly does the Facebook Analytics for Apps do?
In Facebook’s words, it “brings the power of Facebook demographics to cross-device analysis and measurement.”
In essence, Facebook claims that the new tool will help marketers and developers track visitors across mobile apps and websites.
A retailer, for example, will be able to track consumers as they visit Web properties and browse across native mobile apps.
Marketers also will be able to analyze funnel activity, segment consumer groups based on varying characteristics or analyze cohorts of people who act in certain ways in the app, using data including purchase behaviors.
The new tool also is intended to help developers and marketers measure the lifetime value of Facebook ads, and adopt re-marketing strategies to re-engage consumers who drop off.
On the surface, it all sounds good.
Missing Out On Innovation
How game changing are the analytics capabilities from Facebook?
Probably the most valuable aspect of Facebook Analytics for Apps is that it’s potentially a powerful new way for marketers to better understand cross-device behavior of their visitors — both in aggregate and within relevant segments or cohorts — which can help them improve overall performance.
However, let’s not forget that analytics today is a crowded space.
Analytics for mobile apps using the traditional, hard-coded software developer kits (SDKs) is already available through Google and most other vendors.
The problem is that all of these offerings — and now Facebook’s — rely on the SDK approach to development, a slow, cumbersome process that makes it impossible to optimize a native mobile app in real-time. Native mobile apps have typically been hard-coded using these developer kits, then submitted to app stores.
Any changes must be sent back to the developer, the app re-coded and then re-submitted to stores.
What The Future Holds
Marketers need more than analytics insights into how customers are behaving within native mobile apps.
They need to be able to easily combine the mobile data with behavioral data from other engagement channels for a more complete view. And, they need to be able to improve consumer experiences in real time without the unnecessary burden of the current SDK-based methods. The Facebook approach falls short of that.
The big story in this announcement then is that Facebook data has been extended beyond the Facebook platform for analysis with mobile app performance.
And, as Facebook reaches outside its own realm, it raises questions about what the future holds. Will Facebook eventually take more steps to integrate into the broader marketing ecosystem?
Facebook has announced that attribution as a capability is on its roadmap, another clue that the company may continue to reach beyond its own walls.
At the most fundamental level, however, Facebook’s entry into analytics in the broader ecosystem simply reflects that it recognizes the extraordinary value of data generated by its billion-plus members.