Is Facebook Taking Too Much Credit for App Installs?

One of the last missing pieces in the online advertising puzzle is ROI. How can you decide whether your ad campaign was really successful? In the case of app developers, this would seem to be a simple matter, because in theory you can use Facebook’s own tools to track your app installs, and then backtrack to figure out your cost of customer acquisition and run your numbers from there.
Facebook has developed some very sophisticated methods of attribution, especially for app installs, since it is the primary advertising mechanism for app developers. For example, its App Event Optimization will let app advertisers target people by bidding on one of 14 possible actions users have taken, like added an item to a shopping cart or a wishlist, initiated a checkout, purchased something, viewed content or unlocked an achievement.
Facebook believes that because so many people engage with its ads across Facebook, Instagram and the Facebook Audience Network, it’s uniquely able to determine whether someone is likely to take action based on historical data and people with similar characteristics.
And it has also partnered with some tracking companies such as Apps Flyer and adjust,  that specialize in measurement and business intelligence.
AppsFlyer introduced a special Facebook integration last year, which it claims solves the problem of mobile Facebook ROI for app install ads:

By combining in-app activity and lifetime value data with ad cost and other campaign details from Facebook, AppsFlyer can deliver real-time ROI reports on Facebook app install campaigns.

However, there may be something still lacking in the analytics available to app developers: information on whether all ads on Facebook are viewable by all Facebook visitors. We know, for example, that some Facebook users run ad blockers, and that Facebook strictly controls the number of ads within a user’s feed.

Since Facebook counts impressions, rather than viewable impressions, it counts any app installs as driven by Facebook whether the installer has seen the ad or not. If the ad was somewhere on Facebook– even if the user never saw it–and the user later installed the app, Facebook takes the credit and charges for it.

We found it unusual and amusing that Facebook was counting actions taken by users who might not have even seen an ad and charging for them. This used to happen in the old Wild West days of online advertising, where an advertiser paid when an ad was served. Lately, on most other publisher platforms, brands can buy on guarantees of viewability.

To sort this out will take more complex analytics involving mobile ad viewability because almost everyone who installs apps is also on Facebook. In the mean time, it is wise to monitor your campaigns carefully to see if they are really working.