What’s being called a “Facebook problem” is actually much deeper and broader than just the social network everyone loves to blame. Content marketing pros need to take notice.
With all the fingers being pointed at Facebook in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, we here at the Informed Engagement Network felt it would be good to take a step back and address what’s going on under the surface in the content marketing landscape.
With a wealth of experience working with these platforms and audience intelligence capabilities, we felt offering some context would be useful for our clients.
The debate – and fall-out – will likely have ramifications for brands who have long used these platforms for their content marketing digital ad buys.
A few quick points:
- The broader issue is less about Facebook per se, and more about personal data security. In this case, no data is actually being stolen from Facebook. The public is willingly handing over their personal data – first to Facebook, then to 3rd parties – often without thinking about it.
- There is a juxtaposition here: offering your own data ensures more relevant advertising and ease of use on digital platforms (think of how often you sign up for a new app by logging on via Facebook?)…BUT this also makes your data more accessible, and makes you more susceptible and prone to false advertising or “Psyops” (psychological operations aimed to influence emotions and feelings)
- Targeting consumers based on this audience intelligence (likes, website visits, etc) is nothing new for brands. But targeting consumers with nefarious news and content is a growing issue. Debate on Facebook’s role in policing this is ongoing.
- Facebook (and other social networks) do not currently have the same reporting requirements as traditional media (TV, radio) on who is paying for political campaign advertising.
And many of the tactics outlined in disturbing articles about supposed data breaches and misuse of information are used by brands every single day.
Don’t believe me?
Ever use Google to search for that new pair of shoes and then those shoes show up in ads on Facebook ads every day for the next month?
How about that time you shared your phone number with someone from a dating app, and all of a sudden they are showing up in the “people you might know” section the next 15 times you are on Facebook?
In each case, you’ve given Facebook, Google, and that dating app the ability to utilize the information you have shared with the apps. It’s part creepy, part brilliant – and totally legal. As the consumer, you have signed off on the terms. You have volunteered the information.
Let’s take a quick look at how we got here.
- Having worked at major brands spending millions on Facebook ads through the years, I can tell you beyond a doubt Facebook keeps a very tight lid on PII (Personal Identifiable Information) like phone numbers and email addresses.
- Facebook keeps that PII in a digital “black box” – meaning brands and agencies don’t actually have access to that information. However, when a brand submits a list of email addresses – Facebook matches that data (in the black box) and distributes ads to the users who match that information. They do NOT share the names of specific users who are exposed to that ad with brands.
- Savvy brands, app creators and websites have found a way around this black box by going directly to consumers for that information.
- Let’s say you download a new app on your phone, and you sign in for the first time. Instead of typing in your email address and creating a new password for the first time, the app gives you the option to login/create account through Facebook… that’s easy, it’s one tap. In that process, though, you might be allowing the app access to all the information Facebook would otherwise keep in that “black box”. It might just be your email address. But it might be access to your email AND phone number AND names of all your friends AND all the likes and pages you and your friends like (that you have access to as an individual.
- In such a case, you’ve open your window on all your digital behavior and connections to whomever you granted access to. While it’s likely unwittingly – it’s the same unwitting “accept these terms” we all agree to when we update our itunes account… it’s offering almost tacit approval.
There are a myriad of benefits to apps and websites utilizing this ability. We are remarkably connected to friends through different apps and can easily share news, payments, photos, etc. This also allows brands to get smarter about us – i.e. if you are a vegetarian, wouldn’t you rather get an ad for a vegan restaurant than a burger shop?
So it’s important to distinguish between what has consumer benefit (and legal) with what is nefarious and unethical.
And that’s where Cambridge Analytica and other nefarious firms come in.
- Utilizing this legal ad targeting capability and user data to acutely distribute “fake” or “hysterical” news (aka Psyops) runs an ethical gray area which does not exist on traditional media channels. There is no accountability and firms like CA have taken advantage.
- Foreign influences promoted fake and disparaging news prior to the election in a highly targeted way, using precisely the data available for any brand to see.
The new debate for Facebook (along with all social ad networks), advertisers and congress will narrow down to a simple question:
What responsibility do social/digital advertisers have in reporting and policing their ad platforms?
- Should they be required to be the arbiter of what is true or false? This seems to be a never-ending and untenable track.
- Should the Facebook’s of the world merely be treated as communication conduites – ala a telephone company – allowing for free speech and bearing little to no responsibility in what is being said through conversation, robot calls, etc?
- Or, in a middle ground, should these digital advertisers be held to the same standards of TV networks across the country – reporting from whom and for what purpose their advertising space is being purchased.
Regardless of how this ongoing debate is resolved, brands will likely feel the pinch as digital ad buying will become more regulated. Platforms like Facebook will need to divert resources to policing advertising dollars coming through the door (we’re talking billions…) and this will most likely affect how brands work with and buy advertising in the future. It won’t be as easy.
And consequently, users will be less likely to share their information with platforms like Facebook – making finding and targeting your audience more difficult. This shift will only further enhance the need for strong, truthful storytelling from brands.
And ultimately – whether it be on Facebook, Twitter or that dating app you downloaded – the responsibility ultimately rests on you, the individual consumer. Be vigilant about what information you share, take a critical eye towards content you consume, and own your digital presence so no one else does.