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Are walled gardens the end of the party for web analytics?

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No man is an island, entire of itself, especially not on Facebook (that’s the point of it, after all). But increasingly it’s becoming an island to analytics. It’s not alone, either. The shift towards tightly controlled properties such as Facebook or iAd from Apple is going to cause some problems for web analytics, because tracking is that much harder.

Facebook has made a concession to marketers by providing them with its Insights program, which has the added advantage of being free. But it’s not as sophisticated as the kinds of analytics marketers are used to.

But our friends at Econsultancy aren’t worried:

“Are walled gardens as troublesome from an analytics standpoint as they might appear? In my opinion, the answer is no, and there are two primary reasons why:

Many — if not most — companies aren’t looking at platforms like Facebook as standalone, self-contained entities. Oftentimes, they’re using them to drive actions off-platform. For instance, a status update might contain a link to a promotion hosted on the company’s website. Or might entice a user to send a text to participate in a mobile contest. These actions can easily be tracked using an analytics solution of choice.

There’s nothing stopping companies from developing Facebook-based marketing campaigns that are designed to produce actions that take place off of Facebook, and that can therefore be tracked using an analytics solution of choice.”

I have to disagree, at least up to a point. Because while what Econsultancy says is true, it’s only part of the story. Take, for example, fans and fanpages. It’s arguably impossible to know how many fans truly read a brand’s status updates. Can you assume that all the fans will read a brand’s updates? Probably not. So you can’t count them all as impressions. You have no clear idea of the impact your brand is having. You could survey your fans, but surveys are notoriously unreliable. People overestimate, underestimate, forget things, lie. Surveying is only useful to a certain extent, and it wouldn’t be wise to rely on it.

Does it matter? Well, the short answer is yes. The stakes are high, because lots of companies have invested quite a hefty sum of money in their analytics platforms over the past few years. Discovering that you’ve been locked out of the technological party hurts. Luckily for analytics, there’s likely to be somebody working on a way to (figuratively speaking) prise open the bathroom window and sneak in. In the mean time, us analytics fiends will just have to stand outside on the lawn listening to the music.

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