More than 1,6 million people live in Norway’s capital Oslo, claims Facebook. But the real number is only about 500.000. Advertisers be warned: You cannot trust the demographic numbers of Facebook.
The very core of Facebook’s advertisement model is the promise that you can pick exactly the target group you want for your ad. Do you want to reach only women between 40 and 50 years old? No problem! Facebook will show your ad only to that group. Teenage boys in Sweden? Sure. Facebook can do what no other advertising platform can help you with.
But start comparing Facebook’s estimated reach for different groups with the actual demographics and it may all look quite different.
My former colleague Espen Grimmert did just that. Grimmert, who is one of the smartest people I have ever worked with, recently resigned from his position as digital marketing director at Norway’s largest newspaper Aftenposten to start his own company Klokere.no. In his start-up he offers consulting and courses in how companies can use social media in an efficient way.
Among Grimmert’s courses is how companies should use Facebook. One message: Don’t automatically trust the demographics of Facebook!
In an article in the Norwegian business newspaper Dagens Næringsliv Grimmert gives several examples of how Facebook’s demographic figures can go all wrong. He compares Facebook’s numbers with the official numbers of Statistics Norway. (You can read a Norwegian version of Grimmert’s thoughts here)
Here are some of them:
- According to Facebook 1.665.000 Norwegians live in the capital city of Oslo. The real number is only about one third of this.
- Facebook claims Norway’s second largest city Bergen has 72.440 inhabitants above the age of 13. The official number is 216.033.
- Another city is Stavanger. According to Facebook it has 193.200 inhabitants. The official statistics, however, only shows 102.951.
- A smaller city in Norway, Drammen, has 5.460 inhabitants according to Facebook. Official numbers are 52.643.
- According to official statistics there are 613.000 Norwegians between 20 and 29 years old. Facebook, however, has found another 200.000 and claims the total number is 853.480 people.
- Advertisers are mislead to believe that they might reach more users than they actually do, and they might pay for an audience they don’t want. Especially regarding age it seems to be a long way from reality to Facebook’s numbers.
But why are the numbers so wrong?
Grimmert claims many users are misleading Facebook. He mentions a teenage boy he knows who on Facebook claims to be 27 years old and married. The discussion about privacy and Facebook has encouraged many users to alternate their profile info on the social network, he says.
In the paper edition of Dagens Næringsliv Facebook’s spokesman Jan Fredriksson says the social network uses IP adresses in a specific area to estimate the number of users in a geographic area. In that way a web user can be considered as living in Oslo if he gets his internet connection through company headquarters in that city.
I must admit that I found Grimmert’s thoughts very interesting. I would really love to hear your reflections on this. Can we trust the demographic numbers of Facebook? I don’t think so.
But what do you think? Do you have any examples from your geographic area? Let us know!