The Breach and Facebook’s Fate. Is it Time to #DeleteFacebook?

by Angela Yang

Politics aside, the Cambridge Analytica scandal has rocked the social media world. The now infamous data analytics firm collected and unlawfully kept 50 million Facebook user’s private data. Rally cries to #DeleteFacebook have blown up across the internet and the social media behemoth is being sued left and right. Not to mention, Facebook’s stock dropped more than 13 percent in the five days of trading following the initial reports. The FTC also confirmed a non-public investigation into privacy practices of Facebook.

But beyond the latest news headlines, what do we (marketers) need to consider, prioritize, and DO with this information? Here’s our reaction to what we’ve been hearing through the industry grapevine.

QUESTION 1: Do we need to delete our brand accounts? Or stop/pause our advertising on Facebook?

It’s easy to make a blanket statement and say, “Of course, not!” at this juncture with the information we have. But we also want to recognize that brands and brand managers are likely wrestling with these questions internally. Things can escalate quickly and new insights (good or bad) are being uncovered daily about this case. Before toying with the above questions and pulling an Elon Musk or Cher, gauge reactions from your customers IRL, across customer support touchpoints and on the Facebook platform. The key takeaway here: It’s not just Facebook. Your customers likely have a heightened awareness of anything they opt into or share with your brand across platforms and channels.

What marketers can do today
Before making a preemptive shift and disrupting your current social activity, take a pulse check across your digital ecosystem. Are you seeing a marked impact on brand engagement or ad performance on the platform? Are customers actively turning to your customer support channels and social to inquire or complain about your advertising practices? Are you losing app users? The answer is likely not, but keep an eye out. These are all factors to evaluate and monitor before making big shifts in your social and broader digital strategy.

QUESTION 2: If people leave the Facebook platform, what does that mean for how brands reach its current and future customers?

We think there will be a drop-off of Facebook accounts and active users. There are already reports showing how ad investment is stagnating for Facebook. This was happening before the latest news broke, most likely because of a saturation of users. But it will take a lot of time, “last straws” and disruptive innovation for the giant to fall. To give you a sense of Facebook’s scale, losing a million users on the platform would equate to .05% dent in its user base.

At the end of the day, even with user drop off, it will be crucial for brands to gauge WHO in that user base is dropping off and what it means for the brand. Are these users actually a contingent of their key customers? Are prospective audiences leaving the platform?

As Facebook’s algorithms and data-access evolves, we predict there will be potential shifts in content strategy, cadence and the channel’s role within the larger social media mix. But this doesn’t mean that Facebook is going away or that activity from brands will necessarily diminish.

What marketers can do today
As marketers, we need to do what we already should be doing: closely tracking performance on the platform, ensuring our performance benchmarks are sound and driving optimization and shifts in strategy along the way (Facebook issue or not). It makes good marketing sense to continue to test and learn into new and emerging platforms and gauge what is resonating and performing with your audience. It’s the core of staying relevant and differentiating the brand by leveraging social platform and technologies not already being dominated by the competition. Diversify the channel portfolio over time and with purpose but don’t walk away from strong performers…even if that strong performer may be Facebook.

QUESTION 3: What’s do Zuckerberg’s new regulations and initiatives mean for me and my marketing team?

What does pique our interest is the impact of potential Facebook regulation and how Zuckerberg plans to roll out key initiatives that will change how data is accessed, collected and shared through apps and third-party developers. Most of these regulations are based on evaluating data access pre-2014, recency of app and audience interaction, reducing data share at log-in and heightened patrolling from Facebook.

Third-party developer access to Facebook is and has been the cornerstone of some tried and true social intelligence, management and audience insight tools we marketers use everyday to help manage the vast abyss that is social (albeit ironically, access to Facebook user data has always limited the reach and scope of these said tools). How will these companies and partners withstand these changes and find ways to stay compliant within the new world order?

In addition, how will the logistics of developer approvals create hurdles to future innovations with social intelligence? At the end of the day, If/when these initiatives get underway, there will be implications for both the process and the experience, and for the key functionalities that rely on this information and access.

But, there are a lot of unknowns at this point and it’s too early to take what Zuckerberg says as a direct translation to execution. These changes will need to be thoroughly vetted, changed across the entire Facebook system and then implemented and communicated among the developer and marketing community. And if there’s a will, there’s a way in which Facebook will allow SOUND developers to continue the impactful work they do everyday to make the digital experience more personal and more seamless than ever before.

What marketers can do today
Take stock of your current social media tools and partners lists, and reach out to your contacts to check if/how these new initiatives may impact service, access and/or capabilities of your partnership. It may still be too early for partners to have a complete understanding of how these changes will impact their own scope of work, but they should (we have already taken this step at T3) have a response in play and a plan in order to keep you in step with the situation.

This is a given, but keep up to date with the events that occur around these updates as well. Shameless plug: Reach out to us at T3 to help you along the way.

QUESTION 4: Anything else I should know or keep in mind?

Beyond Facebook and beyond social, it’s time to take a good look at the way your organization handles customer data and its pathway through the digital and social ecosystem. The argument that surrounds much of this controversy with Facebook isn’t necessarily just about “checking off the boxes” when it comes to gaining permissions from its users to track and/or leverage their data, it’s more about the responsibility of the organization to ensure that this very act is clearly communicated and understood by all parties. Case in point, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that is set to take into effect by May 25 for our neighbors across the pond. Facebook, Google and other peers are scrambling to fit in with new EU regulations, but it begs the question, what can we marketers stateside learn as this two-year-in-the-making regulation unfolds? How do we adopt options that give users agency and transparency?

What marketers can do today
Get ahead of the game. As these issues continue to crop up and gain media attention your customers will likely be more skittish about sharing information with the brand. Use your customer data wisely and evaluate current methods in which your customers are reached through social and digital means or asked to share pertinent information. Consider cadence, context and value if/when this information is asked for, received and shared. Consider if/how you can communicate to your customers that 1) your data is safe with us and 2) this is how we use your data. And finally, read up and watch. Let’s see how tech companies and people are adapting to the latest regulations in the EU.

With all of this said, the reality is this: social media and its platforms have been and always will be in flux, for the good or for the bad. This is the world in which we as marketers live, work, play every day. Our job, if we’re doing it right, is to adapt, to be accountable and to be transparent in the work, the process and data we use to service our clients and customers. If we can get these things right, Facebook or not, we can weather the storm.

Angela Yang

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