Facebook: Is it time for businesses to move on to a less controversial social platform?
2018 has been probably the most controversial year for Facebook with the Cambridge Analytica fiasco and continues to be so as more and more allegations against Facebook are surfacing. Recently, the New York Times published a report that the social media stalwart ignored warning signs that its platform was being used to disrupt elections, broadcast viral propaganda and inspire hatred.[i]
What went down at the Facebook headquarters?
CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg have been addressing allegations and questions but the contradictions in their statements have made matters worse. In just a matter of a decade, Facebook has connected more than 2.2 billion people, has restructured the political campaigns, the advertising industry and daily life around the world. But this also gave Facebook one of the biggest repositories of personal data, which propelled the company into the Fortune 500. The Times story revealed that Zuckerberg wasn’t involved in making some crucial decisions for the company, such as removing a controversial post about “preventing Muslim immigration” from then-Presidential candidate Donald Trump for fear of angering Republicans and the fact that Facebook decided against naming Russia in its first major research paper about how “malicious actors” used the platform to spread fake information and spread political discord.
The duo ignored the warning signs and then tried to conceal them from the public. After NY Times ran the story, Zuckerberg discussed Facebook’s content moderation efforts over a conference call with the reporters but ended up answering a big bunch of questions. And although, Zuckerberg has released a series of statements and apologies, it’s getting tough for the businesses to trust the company.
How have the businesses responded?
Advertisements form a crucial part of Facebook’s revenue. But brands aren’t sure about relying on the platform anymore. While marketers were disappointed with Facebook’s pay-for-play policy when it came to access the audiences in the past, after this recent controversy, most of them have openly criticized the policies and moral stance of the platform.
Keith Weed, the CMO for Unilever, started this shift this year when he declared that the company would not invest in platforms or environments “which create division in society and promote anger or hate.” Unilever, one of the world’s biggest advertisers and the owner of brands like Dove and Lipton, said it would “prioritize investing only in responsible platforms that are committed to creating a positive impact in society.”
Weed might not be the only one taking a stand against Facebook.
WhatsApp co-founder, Brian Acton, recently tweeted in favor of deleting Facebook.
“It’s time to admit we were all wrong about Facebook. It’s actually worse.” said R/GA, a digital agency that won an advertising award from Facebook last year. Dave Morgan, the founder and CEO of Simulmedia, which works with advertisers on targeted television ads, said the reports about Facebook’s behavior “are driving a lot of pretty intense conversations in the ad industry these days.”
“Advertisers have long taken the position that Facebook was gamed by third parties and bad actors but had always believed that Facebook was taking whatever steps it could to prevent that,” said Rob Norman, a senior adviser at GroupM, the media buying arm of the ad giant WPP.[ii]
How have the consumers responded?
Marketers, as well as consumers, are becoming increasingly aware of how much Facebook knows about us. Findings from a research conducted by the Pew Research Center[iii] has revealed that users of all ages were put off by the way Facebook handled their personal data. About 54% of the Facebook users in the US having adjusted their privacy settings in the past year and 26% deleting their Facebook apps from their device, most including younger users, it’s apparent just how much users value their privacy today.
Businesses need to keep this in mind while making marketing decisions. The marketing materials, database and everything else on social media must be compliant with the law, and terms and conditions as transparent as possible. It is crucial to consider the privacy of users, both online and offline, to instigate brand loyalty. Young consumers are gradually making a switch to other social platforms like Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter. And businesses will also have to slowly shift their focus away from Facebook to these versatile platforms to gain traction.
Time to move on to less controversial platforms
Even after months of the Cambridge Analytica controversy, the ripple effects seem to affect Facebook. Users are changing their relationship with the platform and it is highly unlikely that this migration is going to stop anytime soon. Of course, it isn’t possible for any business to entirely leave Facebook for the simple reason that there are 2.20 billion monthly active users as of March 31, 2018. But utilizing tools such as Doodle, Paperless Post and Eventbrite can come in very handy for organizing events. Migrating phone numbers and email IDs can seem painstaking initially but the knowledge that your interactions with your personal and professional contacts are more secure can work as a positive reinforcement.
If deleting Facebook isn’t an option, securing it in the best way possible seems like the next best option. Targeted ads on Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest are also likely to give similar results as Facebook ads. And there’s a good chance that these platforms can yield even better results for businesses.
The Facebook controversy has revealed two important aspects of consumers that businesses need to keep in mind while carrying out their marketing efforts – data security and protecting the privacy of the users. Clearly, Facebook isn’t in a position to address any of these although Zuckerberg has released a series of statements assuring that user data is safe with the social media giant.
“Over the last couple of years, we have been working hard to reduce the spread of false news on Facebook through a combination of technology and human review,” shares John Hegeman, Head of Facebook’s News Feed, in a Facebook post. [iv]
The platform has promised to be more transparent but how successful they will be in convincing users and advertisers is a different matter altogether.