Ad Fraud: Whose responsibility is it anyway?

Ad fraud is set to become a hotly debated topic in 2017. Thanks, in part, to the White Ops report on ‘Methbot’. The Ad fraud operation which they claim was netting as much as $5M a day through billions of fraudulent ad impressions, or was it?

Whatever the facts about the Methbot case, and the intentions of the White ops team, the bigger question the story raised which wasn’t making the headlines was the lack of incentive for ad fraud to be reported.

Numerous reports of the story made claims suggesting there was nothing that could be done to stamp it out, or no way to bring the culprits to justice. Of course this is absolutely false. If the appropriate details are provided then the law enforcement in the appropriate countries can bring these fraudsters to justice. They can get details of sites, payment details and addresses from the advertising providers. They can speak to website hosts and find details if they have the appropriate warrants; and they could do a lot to try and track these people down.

Only they aren’t, because nobody reported a crime. And when you look into the people who could, and the supply chain of programmatic advertising then you can see why a supposed huge fraud, isn’t becoming a criminal case.

Let’s look at the people involved, their ability to spot ad fraud, and their motivations to prevent it.

The agency

Of course the agency wants to prevent fraud. Their competitive advantage hinges around being able to control their client’s ad campaigns and also provide assurances around brand safety and performance. Any fraud drives up their costs without generating sales or leads and so if they are to perform they need to weed out the fraudsters. They have the technology and the data to identify and stop fraud.

However their commitments extend to their set of clients alone. So they generate their own blacklists of IP addresses or domains where they spot suspicious activity and apply them to their client’s campaigns. They secure refunds where they can provide fraudulent activity and protect their client’s budgets. However the fraudsters remain free to continue on other advertiser’s activity and this works in the agencies favour. Other people’s campaigns suffering generates new business opportunities!

So they keep their blacklists as intellectual property and ensure they aren’t affected but aren’t incentivised to do anything more.

The advertiser

Advertiser awareness of fraud varies massively.  Smaller advertisers will largely be unaware that there could be fraudulent activity taking place on their campaigns and are unlikely to have the technology in place to identify it themselves. Larger advertisers will be more aware and likely more vigilant to fraud either acting for themselves or via an agency.

However, much the same as the agency; the advertiser wants to remove fraud but they are only concerned about their activity. Fraudulent activity eating up their competitor’s budgets means there is less competition for the better quality inventory they are hunting.

Their incentive therefore to eradicate fraud does not extend beyond their own activity.

The DSP or advertising provider

Here we are moving into the people making money directly through fraudulent activity. Of course all DSP’s know about the importance of fraud. They know their reputations rely on their ability to combat it and they have to be seen to be speaking out about it but ultimately they are taking a share of the profit. One ach impression served or click made they are earning profit.

And we also have to consider their focus. Even Google’s reported 100+ strong ad fraud team is a meagre size compared to their business. So they have to focus their efforts. They have to focus on bringing down the big bot networks and identifying patterns and trends which could be costing advertisers millions. Their focus is not on whether a specific site has generated a few thousand fraudulent ad impressions.

Publisher

Fraudulent or not, more impressions means more advertising revenue for the publisher. So there is no real incentive for publishers to report any potential fraud on their own sites.

Competition may mean if they believed their competitors were defrauding advertisers then they would be quick to report them to any parties involved. But rarely would this become a criminal case as it could involve high costs and a long drawn out process. We have also seen in the Criteo vs Steelhouse case that it can bring an unwanted amount of scrutiny onto both parties.

So who is really incentivised to bring the fraudsters to justice?

Well in real terms, nobody.  Everybody has a collective interest to eradicate fraud, but nobody individually is completely invested in doing so. Even to a certain degree the third party verification partners. Of course they want to eradicate fraud for the people who subscribe to their services, but if they got rid of it all together then who would they sell their wares too?

And then there is the issue of standards

One of the contributing factors in the lack of progress on the fraud front is the metrics which we consider ‘good’ for both display advertising and digital advertising as a whole.

Current market averages for click through rate (CTR) on a display campaign are 0.07%. Once you have generated a click, and depending on the industry you are operating in, you may expect a conversion rate between 1% and 5%.

These low figures are contributing to the fraud problem as they mean warning signs are not necessarily available for when fraud is concerned.

At a 0.07% CTR and a 1% conversion rate you would be serving 150,000 impressions before you expected a click through conversion. And even if you served this many impressions and didn’t get a conversion, you may be tempted to wait as if two come along at once, you are back on track. So there is the opportunity to be the victim of hundreds of thousands of fraudulent impressions before you even realise your campaign is not performing and start to investigate why. Or more likely, just remove the publisher from your activity and move on.

Multiply this issue across thousands of advertisers and you can see the opportunity for fraudsters to cash in before their activity even gets looked at.

How do we stop Ad Fraud?

With nobody really incentivised to bring criminal charges or to remove fraud outside of their own selfish domain it is difficult to see how it is stopped. The only real solution is for parties to come together as a collective to stamp out fraud for the benefit of the industry.

Trade bodies such as the IAB are engaged in initiatives, however to date that has culminated in definitions around what constitutes fraud. And of course they themselves can do little without the buy in of the major advertisers, agencies and technology providers. These are the key data holders and without them on board, industry wide initiatives are unlikely to take off.

What is clear is we as an industry need to get our house in order.  Continued concern and scrutiny over fraud and ad quality need addressing in 2017 before they become critical to the future of display advertising.

F*ck Mark Zuckerberg’s T-Shirt

Often in our search to either solve problems, or improve situations we fall into the trap of thinking what works for one person, will work for another. It is understandable as we look for proof of a solutions viability, the fact it has worked before gives us confidence it could work for us.

We also live in a world where this message is used as the hook to sell us the any product even vaguely related to self improvement. Do what I did and you will look like me. Here is the secret for how I became a billionaire. How X went from that to this.

But what a lot of people fail to appreciate is how different we all are. There is no one size fits all model for achieving anything in life. If there was, wouldn’t we all be doing it?

F*ck that T-Shirt

If you follow business press or read biographies you will read a lot about how super successful people achieve so much in their day. And a lot focuses on their daily routine or habits, suggesting that if you replicate them, you too will replicate their success.

If I hear about one more person who has followed the Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg model for wearing the same outfit each day I may strangle somebody with their plain black tshirt.

Equally, another of the more consistent stories you hear is about how these people rise ridiculously early each day and on need 4 hours sleep. Something which many people try and replicate, and will generally tell you how productive it makes them at every opportunity.

I’ve done a fair amount of research into productivity and can tell you that two things for sure:

  1. There is no reason this will defintiely work for you, that doesnt mean you cant be be more productive
  2. It is far more important to understand your own energy patterns

Personally I am an early riser anyway. I’ve never struggled getting up in the morning and find myself most pre noon. But that doesn’t mean I am more effective over a 24 hour period.

I have lulls at other times of the day when my energy levels dip, and past 10pm in the evening I am useless, no matter if I feel alert, I just can’t be effective.

Conversely I know a lot of people who do their best work late at night. But speak to them pre 10am and its a complete waste of time. This isnt because they are any less effective, or any less productive, it means they have their energy peaks at different times.

It irks me to see people handing out blanket advice without considering the differences of each individual. You need to find what works for you, and understand when you have energy. If that’s early in the day and you can crank out a ton of work pre 9am then great, and if its post 9pm and you like to work into the night, then thats fine too.

Don’t build a team of hammers

A widely used quote attributed to Abraham Maslow:

I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.

Often this quote is attributed to tactics and techniques.  Used to profess the virtues of broadening skills, knowledge and approaches.

But this quote can equally be applicable to teams and team structure. If everyone you bring into a team matches a prescribed criteria then that team will become the hammer, and every challenge will begin to look like a nail.

Understanding and assessing individuals skills, capabilities, personalities and approaches is critical is you want a varied toolbox within your team. Ensuring there is variety whilst maintaining a core of values and goals is where excellence exists.

In the agency world this can be as simple as having a balance of thinkers and doers, or a balance of personalities to match against clients.  Taking it a step further you have profiling tools such as Myers Briggs which will give even more detailed view on individuals and how they can be moulded to compliment one another.

However you achieve it, just make sure you don’t build a team of hammers.

Looking for Hope in the EU Referendum

When I saw the news Friday morning I was honestly gobsmacked. I had believed all along that Remain would eventually win through and genuinely thought I wouldn’t be as close as everyone was making out. When I went to bed at around 11 both Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage had more or less conceded defeat. 6 hours later and I’m waking up to news that WE have voted to leave.

I don’t think I have ever felt the same feeling about a political event. Yes, I have voted in general elections and ‘my side’ have lost. But with that you know that there is still a level of consistency about what will happen in the future. And as much as I may agree about one policy or another, there are a lot of constants to cling on to. This time it was different.

I wanted to rant. I wanted to put all of the thoughts in my head down in writing. I wanted to smash BREXIT faces one by one into a photo of Boris Johnson. Look {smash} at {smash} what {smash} you’ve {smash} done {smash}.
But as satisfying as that might have been, it wouldn’t have achieved anything. So I decided to take all of the things that have been wrong with this referendum and turn them into hope. A hope for the future that we will take these lessons and never make the same mistakes again.

Hope #1: People understand the importance of their vote

The turnout of the referendum as 72%, far higher than any general election in 20 years. But in the days since the result we have seen people come out saying they didn’t think their vote would matter. People who voted for a BREXIT without thinking it would happen or thinking of the consequences, now left with a regret for their decision.

It can be easy in an election to think your vote doesn’t matter, especially if you are in a majority seat area. But we all need to vote for what we believe and what we think is right.

Hope #2: We force politicians to speak in real terms

The level political argument in not just the referendum but the most recent general election reached a new low in my lifetime, and the information presented by either side treated the voting public with contempt and insulted their intelligence.

This was magnified in the referendum with many people, only now realising what it means to leave the EU. More expensive holidays, loss of the right to work in other countries, restrictions on holiday homes, expensive to study and travel within the EU.

If politicians don’t speak in real terms, it is on you the voter to search out the truth.

Hope #3: Politicians are held to account for their lies

We seem to now live in a world of freedom for politicians to lie. Less than 9 hours after the result was confirmed, Nigel Farage was forced to admit the £350 Million we apparently (but don’t actually) give the EU each week wouldn’t be spent on the NHS. Of course it won’t, but that is what the leave campaign suggested on the side of their bus and hung a large portion of their campaign on. This figure that has been disproven in number of times, they refused to drop. And we as the voters fail, repeatedly to hold them to account.

And the other key lynchpin in the vote, immigration. Again less than 36 hours after the result, leave campaigners forced to backtrack on claims of reduced or more control on immigration.

The British voters, and the British media, have to hold politicians to account for these lies. And moving forward, we have to do this before a vote is cast.

Hope #4: We see past individual political ambitions

We have to realise our politician’s intentions. There is one reason, and one reason alone that Boris Johnson led the leave campaign. His own personal ambitions to be Prime Minister. He saw an opportunity to potentially remove David Cameron and position himself at the front of the queue. Despite being open about his belief in a single EU trade union in the past, he was willing to switch sides for his own personal gain.

Equally the reason we had a referendum in the first place comes down to David Cameron’s desperation to stay at the head of The Conservative Party. He was facing a revolt from the right leaning Conservatives and had to promise the referendum to keep his leadership and secure his position as Prime Minister.

Neither believed we should be leaving the EU, but both were willing to put the country at risk for their own ambitions. And Johnson went one step further to manipulate and mislead 17,410,742 people to get where he wanted to be.

As voters we need to be smart enough to see through this, otherwise we will continue to be pawns in their game.

Hope #5: I hope I am wrong about the future

And the final hope.  I hope I am wrong about the impact this will have on the country, the economy, and our future as a nation.

I’m worried about what the future holds for our country, but I have to cling to hope that we may at least have learnt some lessons about democracy and our role as voters within it.

Can A Single Tool Really Simplify Social Media Management?

Social media managers are increasingly turning to social media management tools to make their lives easier. With an ever-increasing list of tasks (more networks to manage, different types of content to push, more detailed analytics to accumulate, more targeted campaigns, and so on and so forth…), it’s become virtually impossible to run an effective social media marketing campaign directly from the social media networks themselves.

According to Kissmetrics,  only 34.1 percent of social media management tool users claim to be “happy” with their current social media management tool, whilst 60.1 percent are just “okay” with theirs (the remaining 5.8 percent are actively “unhappy”). This shows that no tool is really blowing away users.

Why?

The biggest by far is that the needs of individual social media managers vary considerably.

For example, one may run campaigns only on Instagram and Facebook. Such an individual would then want to plan, implement, analyse, and review these campaigns scrupulously, and expect their tool to offer the functionalities to match.

Another social media manager may be expected to run campaigns on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Vine, and the rest. This person, since they’re spinning more plates, may want less detailed analytics presented in an easy to understand and actionable way.

As a final example, yet another social media management tool user may also be the owner of their business. This character is likely to want tools which speed up their social media management activities and make them more efficient.

Creating a tool that satisfies such a diverse range of requirements is tricky, to say the least.

However, if a tool falls short in just one area, users are likely to be underwhelmed by their experience, hence the disappointing user satisfaction scores.

Most of the social media management tool market’s leaders (Hootsuite, HubSpot, Buffer, etc.) offer comprehensive, one-stop-shop solutions. But increasingly, other tools are beginning to offer more nuanced services aimed at niche social media management demographics.

For those with little time to create content, there is Edgar, the content recycler. For those with a specific interest in finding engaging Facebook and Twitter content, there’s Post Planner. For those who love a serious Twitter session, there’s Twitter’s own TweetDeck.

viral photos

As the needs of different social media managers become clearer, I believe that we will see more of these less comprehensive (though no less ambitious) tools emerge. After all, such tools are often less expensive and can be used to supplement tools which sell themselves as a one-stop-shop.

And this isn’t a bad thing. Today’s market leaders, the one-stop-shops, may even be able to offer third-party integration with some of these tools. Such integration would allow social media users to use the comprehensive tool as a base before selecting which third-party tools to add as an extra in order to match their exact needs. Buffer is already making good progress in this area.

In order for the social media management tool market’s leaders to survive, they may have to focus less on trying to please everyone, and more on allowing people to please themselves using supplementary third-party tools.

With this in mind, what functions should those comprehensive tools retain as core functions?

Content curation, I think, will have to remain as a standard. Having a place from which to sort through vast amounts of web content and being able to present in a meaningful way is one of the most attractive of a social media management tool’s propositions.

Similarly, publishing and scheduling will also remain a necessity, since such tools work best if integrated with multiple sites and allow cross-campaign analysis (which is the comprehensive tool’s forte).

A social inbox will also stay crucial, since users can save huge amounts of time being able to respond to messages and interactions from various networks in one place.

Finally analytics probably should not be outsourced to a third-party, since having cohesive reports concerning a wide range of different social media aspects is one of the social media management tool users most important and consistent requirements, and third-parties are less well placed to offer this service.

Other functions, such as keyword analysis, more nuanced tools for managing specific networks, content creation tools, and other innovations that no one has even thought of yet, could be provided by third-parties.

Now, if I’m right, and social media management tools do indeed involve in this way, which comprehensive tool is best to pick as your “base”?

Recently, iag.me teamed up with g2crowd.com in order to find out which social media management tools were the best according to their users. The infographic they created, based on ratings and reviews, listed users’ favourite tools (Hootsuite, AgoraPulse, Sprout Social, and Sendible), and rated them in terms of:

  • User satisfaction
  • Product direction
  • Usability
  • Maintenance
  • Meeting requirements
  • Market presence
  • And price

social media tools rated

All of these tools fall into the one-stop-shop category, and so the infographic is a good place to start when it comes to choosing the right comprehensive social media management tool for you.

As the needs of social media managers continue to diversify, it may not be possible for one tool to meet all of their needs single-handedly (however, I’d love to be proven wrong!). That said, tools which embrace and integrate third-party offerings may still be able to offer their users something that covers all of their bases, and allows them to satisfy their more particular needs.

Do you agree that social media management tools are likely to evolve in the way outlined above? Or do you think one tool can rise to the occasion, and keep all of its users happy? Let me know with a comment.

This is a guest post by Lilach Bullock. Lilach is a highly regarded on the world speaker circuit who has graced Forbes and Number 10 Downing Street. 

Listed in Forbes as one of the top 20 women social media power influencers and was crowned the Social Influencer of Europe by Oracle. A recipient for a Global Women Champions Award for her outstanding contribution and leadership in business.