The future of Facebook. Are clients really leaving and will consumers stay?
The news last week brought to light a question that’s been around for quite a while within the industry, ‘What data does Facebook really hold on us, and how is it using it?’
Since the Cambridge Analytica scandal earlier this week we’ve been asked a number of questions such as ‘what is the future of Facebook?’ and ‘have you seen an impact with your clients?’ Or one of my favourites, ‘are people going to boycott social media and start reading papers again?’ Interestingly these questions have not come from clients, rather the media and industry peers.
So, what is Tangerine’s viewpoint?
Facebook is a big cog in a big machine, owning many other big cogs, Whatsapp and Instagram… so the chances of a mass exodus are pretty slim. The fact, however, cannot be denied that the social media landscape is changing. The events we’ve witnessed, not just in the last few weeks, but over the course of the year, so far, are catalysts, accelerating the evolution of the social media landscape. Marketeers have been privy to the changes on the horizon; we saw Diageo part ways with Snapchat back in January, citing, “We have now stopped all advertising on Snapchat globally whilst we assess the incremental age verification safeguards that Snapchat are implementing.” Unilever also threatened similar action with Facebook, “Unilever will not invest in platforms or environments that do not protect our children,” CMO Keith Weed told the audience of digital marketers. “Or which create division in society, and promote anger or hate.”
The recent Cambridge Analytica scandal has, once again, shone a spotlight on the same issues, which all boil down to one simple fact: social media is not currently regulated sufficiently.
There are three main issues to discuss with regards regulation:
1: What is Facebook? Is it a publisher or a media channel?
The government has been debating this, over ‘growing concerns about copyright infringement and the spread of extremist material online.’  This debate is not new; articles around this topic date back to at least 2012.Facebook however is quite adamant it is not a publisher and not currently liable for any illegal material on the site. In reality, Facebook is neither a publisher nor a media channel and yet, at the same time it is both of these things.
2: Currently there are no official rules of play for a hybrid of this nature and the recent issues are screaming that we need more regulation.
Every other media channel is heavily regulated by governing bodies. You cannot talk about products with HFSS in children’s media, you can’t market alcohol to children, you can’t make false health claims and you certainly can’t promote illegal material. Whilst there are advertising guidelines we have to follow through the ASA and in line with the CAP Code, this is not sufficiently policed across social media to date. The main guidelines – terms of service – followed on Facebook are imposed by the channel themselves to ‘avoid clickbait’, spam and to ‘encourage meaningful interactions between people.” But herein lies the issue; Facebook started as a social sharing platform and while that is its core mission, Facebook found its fortune in the world of advertising, offering marketers the opportunity to become increasingly targeted with advertising spend and the promise of a greater return through this approach. However, the approval process for the content of ads is done by artificial intelligence, and while it’s good, it’s clearly not advanced enough to have the moral compass which is clearly required to police this industry. Whilst Facebook claims to want to stay true to its principals as a social sharing platform, it is no coincidence that the recent algorithm changes mean ‘organic reach’ truly is dead and that there is no option but to pay to play, thus increasing the revenue stream of Facebook. And fair play, why should we leverage the channel for free?
But social sharing platform, advertising channel or publisher, there needs to be bespoke rules and regulations to make it fit for purpose and to protect brands and consumers alike.
3: Social media is not free.
Whether you’re an advertiser or a consumer, this gap in regulation also means there is a lack of transparency around the price of using social media. Advertisers should 100% pay to advertise on the platform; you wouldn’t expect to advertise for free on TV. However, are consumers aware of what they’re paying with to use the platform? The recent news has highlighted that consumers are paying with data, data that they may not have been aware they were handing over, rightly or wrongly. Recent search terms show that people want more information and previously had little knowledge of the value exchange. One of the most shared articles to date is how to change your Facebook privacy settings to opt out of API sharing.
Above: the main questions people are asking about Facebook.
So, what needs to happen?
There clearly needs to be more transparency in terms of the true price of social media, not small print hidden in the T&Cs. Anyone who has ever used Tinder or played Farmville has most likely shared not only their own data, but that of their friends and family; until 2014 third party developers were able to access this data freely to develop and build these apps on the platform. Which, as ex Facebook insider cites, is ‘utterly horrifying’. Once data was handed over to these developers, Facebook then had no control over how this was leveraged moving forwards – and there we have the issue with Cambridge Analytica: a large cache of data harvested through a third party app and then used for extensive ‘micro-targeting’ in political campaigns. Quite rightly Mark Zuckerberg has addressed this issue with a full page ad in the national press in both the States and the UK, with the headline, ‘We have a responsibility to protect your information and if we can’t we don’t deserve it.’ Whilst this is a move in the right direction, this still doesn’t answer the question: how will they do this when it is not clear what Facebook is, so who is responsible for governing it and what rules do they follow? The ad is signed off with, ‘Thank you for believing in this community,’ which in itself could be perceived as misleading to users.
Above: Advert published in several national papers across the United States and United Kingdom, 25th March 2018
One question we debated internally was: are users aware that Facebook owns Whatsapp and Instagram, and that data is shared across platforms? It was interesting to read that Elon Musk had pulled Telsa and Space X from Facebook, but more interesting to read, “He said he would continue to use Facebook-owned Instagram for the time being.” Even if people are deleting Facebook/Snapchat, people are simply migrating from platform to platform, they’re not deleting social media completely. Take Kylie Jenner, who ‘tweeted’ that she no longer used snapchat. She took to social media to denounce social media – the irony.
Above: Kylie Jenner tweet 21st February 2018
Regulation is coming. What does this mean for consumers, brands and agencies alike?
So, in conclusion, Facebook is not dead and neither is the future of social media BUT regulation is coming, maybe not even in the form of governance, but certainly via citizen journalism, we are now more informed (and more sceptical than ever before)!
There is no doubt that regulations will be imposed sooner than later, but we shouldn’t see this as a bad thing.
Facebook, as with other channels now has a huge opportunity to turn this negative news in to a positive. Your social channels are just that, YOUR social channels and you should be given more opportunities to tailor the content you see/receive and you can do that through the information you ‘feed’ Facebook about yourself.
Advertisers (Agencies and Brands)
The landscape is ever-changing and we should never rest on our laurels; we should relish the challenge and be excited about the ‘always-on’ evolution of social media. Regulation means rules, but rules force us to be more creative. In a creative industry, this is simply a new creative challenge, to be better, bolder, braver than ever before, to find a way to talk to people, about something they didn’t even know they wanted to know about, in a way that they want to be spoken to, that they didn’t even realise was possible.
So now you have the facts, what will you do?
By Laura Weightman, Head of Social