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How Facebook is cheating advertisers on the demographics

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.

Espen Grimmert

Espen Grimmert

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.

Espen Grimmert says to BetaTales:

– 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!

About the author: Experienced media manager and journalist. Enthusiastic about digital media – and eager amateur photographer. Currently Chief Communications Officer at Schibsted Tech Polska in Krakow, Poland.

Comments on this entry are closed.


    I can understand this and I can handle it. However, the real problem is that after 1 day of advertising with Google (only Japan) they claim 20 clicks were generated, but my Google Analytics says only 4 visitors came from Japan. I can understand that someone can be on vacation in another country, but the same number of visitors (4) came from Facebook as a referring page according to Google Analytics. I may not sounds a lot paying 20$ when I should have paid 4$, but imagine paying 20K $, when you should have paid 4K $, do you think this marketing strategy will work?!?

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  • Thinker

    well a lie is a lie and a scam is a scam, i personally would not want to pay for more than the advertising is worth; if facebook has to resort to this then maybe they are not so popular after all

  • Ethnic Creations

    ok I just realized facebook is definitely cheating! after spending $100 worth in ads, I thought of to check real time tracking and found out that all hits from facebook visited 2 pages and session ended…coincidence?I think not! and each visit was from an entirely different country , even a country I had blocked viewership of my page (just to test) , even the time session lasted is same , so technically they are giving hits but i think they have automated bots to do the clicks! the reality struck me and I stopped all my campaigns! sucks!!!!!