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Posted By
Ketna
Mistry
Ketna.Mistry@cognitomedia.com

Social media has been and still is a powerful marketing and communications tool for brands to use whether they are speaking to their audiences or customers, or advertising on the platform to a targeted set of users.

However, in the wake of the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal it has caused great sensitivity from its users. Mark Zuckerberg has apologised for the ‘major breach of trust’ but will that be enough to reassure hearts and mindsets of both users and brands?

The two billion plus users that Facebook boasts are going to consequentially disrupt the platforms 14-year history. From users and advertisers wanting to understand how their data has been exploited, to how actively the platform is used, most likely increasing their privacy settings, and quite possibly #deleteFacebook a popular trending discussion on Twitter.

Why is this so controversial?

Many users of social media platforms understand ‘if you’re getting something for free, you are not just the customer, you are also the product’. They have chosen to trade selective information about themselves for free access to platforms and in turn these platforms profit by allowing advertisers to access this data, to target them.

So where is the breach of trust? Aside from Facebook setting up open APIs which allowed developers with the know-how to tap data from personal profiles. Combine it with misuse of this data, by identifying patterns of how users consumed and interacted with content on Facebook using that information to psychologically profile these users at scale. Taking it a step further by serving them with ultra-targeted ads to influence behaviour, this is said to have influenced outcomes such as Brexit.

Cambridge Analytica
CEO of Cambridge Analytica Alexander Nix

Not that this wasn’t enough, add to this Facebook’s inability to verify the accuracy of contents on its newsfeed, the so-called advent of ‘fake news’ that proved so powerful in Trump’s election victory of 2016 – it is clear Facebook has a major reputation problem on its hands with its users.

The impact on brands

On the flip side, brands trust towards the platform has also been rocked. They are deeply concerned by the scandal. Brands do not want that association to be reflected onto them. Unilever is one brand that has been vocal about this and had already threatened one month prior to the scandal being released they want to withdraw their advertising - Unilever's chief marketing officer Keith Weed, said: “We cannot have an environment where our consumers don't trust what they see online."

Whilst other brands have taken immediate action with Elon Musk deciding to delete Tesla and Space X’s Facebook pages with millions of likes to show their stance on the scandal.

Considering Facebook’s oligopoly with Google, brands are in a finally in a position to demand change. Facebook are in talks with trade bodies that represent brands to understand what checks and governance they will be implementing to ensure misconduct of personal data is not compromised again. This sensitivity is especially heightened today with regulations such as GDPR around the corner.

For those companies that are regulated or risk averse, you may be being asked what your companies next steps are in light of this scandal. Before deciding the best course of action is to #deleteFacebook, we recommend reviewing these points to help you establish what next steps look like.

  • Evaluate your 2018 social media strategy, is there a spread across various platforms?
  • Review how much traffic is generated to your website by Facebook
  • If users of Facebook increase their privacy settings or in fact come off the platform, can you quickly adapt and scale your model elsewhere?
  • Read the terms of the platform. Is your company satisfied with how they are using data of its users and establish if this aligns to your company values?
  • Follow and draw up some points for your company leadership team on how/if Facebook’s actions are enough for you remain on the platform. Provide objective view points for both cases
  • Conduct an audit on other platforms, APIs, privacy policies and data models, are there any factors that raise eyebrows and you can get in front of

This is a cautionary tale of why regulation is so important and how both platforms and brands have a responsibility to ensure a robust governance framework is in place. It should cause some points to be raised. Where is your company sourcing and using data, ignorance is no longer acceptable. Whether this is on company platforms or third-party sites, there needs to be full transparency of the purpose this data and what it is being used for. Having privacy policies in place and ensuring they are updated for 2018.

Finally this should already be in place if your company has a GDPR strategy, addressing how your data is stored, processed and collected. If this is embedded into your company processes, reviewing how Facebook or other platforms use data will come naturally.

The influence the scandal will have on Facebook and how this impacts the industry is yet to be seen. This will be determined from how regulatory bodies react, the changes Facebook are prepared to make, if brands choose to be associated with the platform and ultimately if users decide to forgive Facebook.