Facebook hasn’t been having a great time lately, at least in terms of public reputation. In the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook was accused of mishandling private user data – a move that inadvertently exposed the personal information of 87 million people to a political analytics firm. In response to this, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) imposed its highest-ever fine against Facebook, in the amount of $5 billion. Cambridge Analytica isn’t the only problem Facebook is dealing with, either—frustrations over manipulative algorithms, user privacy, and data security have led to 74 percent of American Facebook users taking action to distance themselves from the app (including deleting their account, deleting the mobile app, following heightened privacy protocols or committing to checking the app less frequently).
For marketers, however, Facebook has been an impressive and accessible tool. Users may be concerned about how their personal data is used, but that personal data is incredibly useful in creating better ads for audiences most likely to appreciate it. It’s free to create a business page on the app, and if you follow good distribution practices, you can even use Facebook to increase the visibility and search rankings of your onsite content.
The question is, could Facebook’s reputational problem affect your marketing campaign? Should you adjust your strategy to accommodate for this?
The important factors
Let’s start by boiling the problem down to the main factors you’ll need to consider. Let Facebook deal with Facebook’s problems, and instead focus on how their mistakes could possibly affect you and your strategy.
- Total number of users. First, you could grow concerned that the number of total Facebook users is declining due to these reputational concerns; a smaller audience could, in some approaches, compromise the effectiveness of your campaign. However, the numbers don’t bear this out. While lots of people are taking “additional measures” to secure their accounts, and hashtags like #deletefacebook have been trending on and off, the total number of global, active Facebook users has been increasing consistently, seemingly with no effect from the recent controversies. As of Q2 2019, there are 2.4 billion Facebook users active on a monthly basis.
- Effectiveness of advertising. You may also be concerned about the effectiveness of your advertising. Will you still be able to reach the right people? Will they still be willing to convert? There isn’t much in the way of broad user behavioral data, but this still seems like a minor concern. Facebook is still good at categorizing people into appropriate demographic groups (and groups based on interests), and the burden of “effective” advertising is still on you. As long as you know your demographics and are putting sufficient effort into your messaging, Facebook’s reputational problems can’t interfere.
- Reliability of consumer data. You may wonder whether you’ll have access to the same depth or reliability of consumer data. If Facebook decides to redouble its commitment to user privacy, it may collect fewer data points on its user base, or make it harder for companies to sift through those data. This is a real concern, but not an immediate one, and not one most companies would notice. Even before these scandals, user data were sufficiently anonymized. As of now, it doesn’t appear Facebook is interested in reducing the data collected from individual users, at least as it pertains to marketers. Facebook gets nearly all its income from advertisers, so it would be counterintuitive for them to reduce this income, even in an attempt to improve their reputation with end users.
- Reputational proximity. You may be worried that staying active on Facebook would imply you’re implicitly fine with Facebook’s actions. This moral proximity problem could bear some weight. However, the people most morally outraged by Facebook’s actions have probably already left the platform – meaning they won’t stick around long enough to judge your company based on its usage of the platform. It’s also unlikely they’ll be morally outraged enough to stop buying your products in all except the most fringe cases, so it’s not a realistic concern.
- App longevity. Fatalistic views have suggested that these scandals could be the beginning of the end for Facebook. Obviously, if the app dies, you’ll no longer be able to use it for your marketing and advertising purposes. However, given the most recent user data, this eventuality seems far off, if even a realistic concern; it would likely take continued reputational incidents to push Facebook further in this direction.
Effective steps to take
Ultimately, it doesn’t seem like Facebook’s reputational problems will have a massive impact on your current use of Facebook marketing and advertising. However, if you’re looking to either take advantage of the current climate or mitigate any negative effects you might feel, there are some measures you can take:
- Refine your advertising strategy. Take this time to improve your advertising efforts on Facebook. Research your key demographics carefully and come up with more original, relevant messaging. If people are consuming content on Facebook, they probably aren’t thinking about the app’s reputation or moral issues; a good ad is a good ad, in almost any context.
- Diversify your social media approach. If Facebook is the cornerstone of your digital content or social media strategy, now may be a good time to branch out to other options. Think of it as diversifying your portfolio, just in case your Facebook results start to suffer.
- Emphasize your commitment to consumer privacy. If you want to distance yourself from Facebook’s scandals without getting off the platform entirely, you could make the effort to reassure your customers about your commitment to their privacy and data security.
Facebook is undergoing a reputational crisis of borderline epic proportions. It remains to be seen whether this will drive the app to extinction, but in the short term, as long as you’re mindful of the effects these issues are having on users, you can adjust your marketing campaign to compensate for them. Few businesses will face significant secondary repercussions—especially if Facebook is only one of several strategies in your digital marketing arsenal.
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