I tweeted this the other day, it was really a passing thought. The more I let it stew, though, the more I realized there was probably a fuller blog post in there somewhere. So here we are.

Some people are always skeptics. That must be hard, though I bet it can come in awfully handy on occasion. I’m happy to say that I’m not one of them, but I could also describe myself as situationally skeptical. I think this is probably the most normal, but I don’t have any sociological data to support that notion.

I’ve always been skeptical of the reporting that companies spit out, particularly internet companies who rely so heavily on the impression, the click, the interaction or my favorite one, the “active” user.

Some companies claim an active user is someone who has interacted with their site in the past 12 months. Some only count active users if they’ve done something on their site in the last 30 days. That’s a wide swing. Personally, I believe an active user should only be in the 1-3 day range for most sites.

The one I’ve been thinking about lately, as my tweet mentions, is the “unintentional engagement.” This doesn’t exist. But it should.

Have you ever been scrolling through your Twitter feed on your phone, using your finger to swipe down, down, down and you accidentally click instead of swipe, so a photo or video comes up? Of course you have. I think it might happen to me every day.

change your mind

If you’re looking at the bottom tweet, the auto-play video on top is counted as a view. Wrong.

Well, Twitter is counting that as engagement. It’s a click. If it’s a video and it plays for just 3 seconds, Twitter considers that a video view. Three seconds! 

If you were an advertiser paying Twitter, wouldn’t you want your reporting about video views or tweet views to be more true? Can’t they detect when you click and revert back to the main feed right away, like in 1-2 seconds? Of course they can. And they should.

Facebook, same idea. Have you ever been scrolling down your feed and a good friend of yours posts a paragraph or two of deep thoughts and you read it for a bit? Yes, you have. But just above that, a video starts playing on it’s own (that’s called “auto-play”) and it continues to play while you read something else? Facebook considers that an engagement, a video viewed! That you didn’t pay attention to it or see it matters none. They have the same 3 second rule in place, too.

YouTube is a little better. They don’t consider a video viewed for their analytics platform until :30 seconds. That seems much more reasonable to me. Unless your video is 20 minutes long, I guess.

Auto-play seems a little misleading to me, too. For example, the sound never goes on. That’s why you’re seeing a lot of recipe videos with text overlaid on them. Clever. But 3 seconds on auto-play counts as a viewed video? Facebook and Twitter say yes. I say no. There have been recent reports saying that as much as 85% of videos aren’t even heard!

So let’s get back to the main point of the tweet. I think it would be great if the social media sites actually reported “unintentional engagement.” They can absolutely do it. They can track if I click something and immediately head back. Facebook could easily not count an auto-played video as an official view for my brand if people have engaged (commented, liked, shared) with a post right below or above mine. It can be done.

But it won’t. Because they need to show HUGE numbers to advertisers as a carrot to get them to spend and keep spending.

Let me also say this, to play devil’s advocate for a moment. I’ve purchased plenty of video advertising on Facebook at my last couple of jobs. I don’t pay much attention to views or impressions, because those are bullshit measurements.

The success – depending on your goal – is usually in the engagement of it, the clicks to your website and the performance once they get there. I’ve generally been happy with the performance, particularly on Facebook.

I just think social media sites could be a lot more honest about this stuff. Or the IAB should come out with universal standards for engagement metrics. I’m not holding my breath.