A decade ago, when most of us first created an account on Facebook, few would have predicted the global scandal that it now finds itself in. Facebook has become an integral part to the lives of billions of people around the world as it helps them to share memories, organise events, and chat with friends. It’s also been a deposit for large quantities of our data, ranging from our likes and dislikes, to our listening habits, what we buy, who we message and even political leanings.
It’s for this last category that Facebook now finds itself in trouble with its users, with allegations that they did little to protect user data from being sold to Cambridge Analytica who subsequently used the profiles of 50 million users to target political adverts at voters in the 2016 US election. In a letter published across UK and US newspapers, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted that they had failed to adequately protect user data.
Will users really #DeleteFacebook?
This has done little to stop the growing #DeleteFacebook movement, calling for users to permanently remove themselves from Facebook along with their data. Elon Musk has removed Facebook pages for Tesla and SpaceX, and brands including Sonos temporarily paused paid ads on the platform.
Most people, however, don’t expect a mass desertion from Facebook. It has become so integrated into most people’s lives – particularly when Facebook-owned Whatsapp and Instagram are taken into account – that they won’t leave altogether.
Personal data now has value
For the first time though, the general public are beginning to wake up to the sheer quantity that tech companies know about them. The latest news stories have been likened to the MP expenses scandal last decade. Most people in the political bubble knew what was going on but were caught off guard by the anger once the news went national. Similarly, for those of us who work in digital marketing, the latest headlines might have left us scratching our heads, wondering what was exactly new here. However, most people simply didn’t realise that this was going on. They certainly do now.
How should brands react?
What then does this mean for the future of digital marketing and advertising? Well for one, brands may have to work harder to convince their customers to engage with them on social media or to sign up to events or competition where they hand over their data. They might also need to alter their social media content to avoid anything looking too highly targeted. Consumers are now on high alert for any advertising that looks too targeted or ‘creepy’. A recent survey by Marketing Week found that more than 1 in 3 Brits had tightened their privacy settings on Facebook since the Cambridge Analytica news broke. Almost half said that they are now much warier of what they post on the platform.
Finally, some brands might make the decision to abandon Facebook altogether. It’s a difficult to decision to make. Some might see a gain in leaving the platform to show their dedication to customer privacy and to try and force a change in Facebook policy. Most, however will not. Facebook remains one of the world’s most powerful marketing tools, and digital marketers will be very reluctant to drop it from their toolbox.
Above all else, brands need to get their houses in order and offer more transparency in the way that they market to their customers. With GDPR also coming into full force this May, companies should ensure they’re not caught out by the next data scandal.