The tagline for “The Social Network,” the 2010 film about the founding of Facebook was: “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.”
Now that Facebook is up to 2.2 billion friends, the social network and its founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, seem to have made more than a few enemies. But what does the string of stumbles by Facebook mean for businesses that use the social media platform for connecting with customers or for online advertising? First, let’s review some of the latest problems currently plaguing Facebook.
Use of Customer Data
During the 2016 election, a political firm hired by the Trump campaign acquired access to private data on millions of Facebook users. According to the New York Times, these data “included details on users’ identities, friend networks and ‘likes.’ The idea was to map personality traits based on what people had liked on Facebook, and then use that information to target audiences with digital ads.”
When this story broke earlier this year, Facebook encountered a fierce backlash from users, politicians and investors. The Federal Trade Commission opened an investigation into whether the company violated a 2011 consent decree to keep users’ data private and Facebook’s stock dropped.
Users and Engagement Levels Are Flat or Falling
Just last month, Facebook revealed that North American daily active users fell last quarter. It also reported that it lost daily European daily active users in the second quarter.
And earlier this month, Buffer released findings from an analysis of 43 million Facebook Page posts. The company examined posts from the top 20,000 brands on Facebook and discovered: “over the past 18 months, Page engagement [for branded content] has dropped by more than 50%.” This may be caused by the changes Facebook made to its News Feed algorithm, less interest in brands’ Facebook posts among users, or (most likely) both.
As noted above, Facebook can still reach more than 2 billion people around the world. But these are worrying trends for the company and its investors, who watched the company’s stock plummet in late July.
Facebook’s recently removed Alex Jones from their site. In explaining the decision, Facebook cited violation of their “hate speech policies.” Before this action, critics of Jones lambasted Facebook for allowing him to broadcast conspiracy theories and to spread hate speech. Supporters of Jones (and Jones himself) are now accusing Facebook of censorship.
But as Wired points out: “The question was never really whether Jones had violated Facebook’s policies… but whether the [company] would ever fully enforce those policies at the risk of breaking their promise of radical openness.” For now, the answer is that companies like Facebook will enforce their policies – when they want to (or are forced to by outside pressure).
Lawsuit Alleging Inflated Reach Numbers
Earlier this month, a business owner sued Facebook for misleading advertisers about the “potential reach” of its online advertising. According to the East Bay Times:
“The lawsuit from owner Danielle Singer alleges that Facebook’s purported Potential Reach figures for the 18-to-34 age demographic in all 50 states exceeded the actual population of 18-to-34-year-olds who use Facebook. The lawsuit also says it received testimony from former Facebook employees confirming the inflation. One anonymous employee said the Potential Reach number was ‘like a made-up PR number.’”
So what do Facebook’s problems mean for businesses that use the social media giant for engaging with customers online or for targeting consumers with boosted posts or display ads? What should businesses do?
1. Monitor Your Own Content and Comments
Facebook hasn’t demonstrated the desire or resources to evaluate every piece of content published by individuals or brands, not to mention the subsequent comments from other uses. So to avoid controversy, brands with pages on Facebook should have their own standards of use clearly spelled out.
For example, the New York Times has outlined its Facebook standards concisely and effectively:
“A few things we won’t tolerate on our Facebook wall: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes) and commercial promotion. While most comments will remain posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can.”
Companies should also have a decision tree about what to do about controversial comments. The three main options are:
- Delete the comment
- Hide the comment
- Respond to the comment
If you elect to respond to a comment, it’s useful to have a prepared set of templates or scripts that are easily adapted and applied.
2. Adjust Your Facebook Advertising
In response to the Cambridge Analytica revelations, Facebook announced in March that it is removing access to data provided by third-party data brokers within its advertising system. Marketing Land explains the details: “The removal of third-party data sources means a large number of ad targeting attributes such as in-market behaviors and household income will no longer be available.”
These are nearing completion, so there is still time to evaluate current demographic factors used to target Facebook advertising. Facebook still makes available plenty of data that it collects without depending on third parties, so investigate and determine which other factors will help you most effectively reach your desired audiences.
3. Diversify Your Online Advertising Portfolio
Facebook is the 800-pound gorilla of social media marketing; companies with any kind of online presence simply can’t ignore it.
But it still makes sense – as use and engagement plateau or decline and as the company makes changes to the data available to marketers – to expand and diversify the online channels used to engage with your customers or to market to new ones. Look closely at your audiences and engagement levels on different platforms. What you find may suggest new opportunities.
For example, if you are an online retailer, Pinterest may be a better way to reach shoppers. Or, if your target audience skews younger, Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) may allow you to better engage with your customers. Or instead of investing all or most of your online marketing budget on Facebook display ads, consider Snapchat, Google Ads or ONE by AOL.
A diverse online marketing portfolio will help insulate you from changes to Facebook and potentially help you reach people more aligned with your business goals.
The digital world changes very quickly. Pierpont Communications digital strategy experts can help effectively and efficiently manage your online marketing and social media initiatives. Contact us today.
Chris Ferris, Ph.D. and Pierpont’s Vice President of Digital Strategy, is an innovative communication leader passionate about digital marketing and customer-focused technologies. Outside the office, he is a lecturer in management at the Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University (Rice Business), where he teaches a self-designed digital marketing course for MBA students. Derrell Manhertz, a Digital Assistant Account Executive, brings a skill set focused on understanding an evolving digital audience and supporting digital marketing functions across the firm, covering social media, lead generation, and website development.