This week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was called to testify in front of members of US Congress. The testimony spanned across two days for a total of ten hours, during which Zuckerberg was pressed on drug sales through Facebook, censoring conservative voices, self-regulation and the Cambridge Analytica data scandal.
Zuckerberg’s prepared statement to Congress was released ahead of the hearing. In this, he highlighted the initial steps that Facebook has taken to close access to third parties and to do more to combat fake accounts, as well as the spread of misinformation.
Let’s face it. We work in an industry that is hugely reliant on social media platforms for reaching new audiences when it comes to building brand awareness and leading conversions. It goes without saying that Facebook is one of the major players in this field. So how then can consumers and publishers begin to regain trust with this social media leader? We posed such questions to our very own Head of Media (AU) Megan Edwards, and our Regional Head of Social Media, Tim Sharp.
According to Megan “there’s almost a case for arguing that Facebook doesn’t need to rebuild trust with brands and consumers. From a brand perspective, this isn’t new news; as advertisers we’ve all been reaping the benefits of an amazingly rich data source for targeting our campaigns.”
“For the end consumer, it’s difficult to cut ourselves off from the Facebook teat. It’s how we keep tabs on friends and family. Does deleting Facebook mean I should delete Instagram and WhatsApp too? The tangled web runs too deep and for many deleting these services would be like cutting off a limb.”
“The steps Facebook have already taken appear to be enough for the man on the street. We might not like what they’ve done, but we’re addicted to what they have to offer and aren’t ready to quit.
Trust and transparency
Regional Head of Social Media, Tim Sharp adds,” transparency breeds trust. Which is of course easier said than done when it comes to online privacy, where many (arguably, most) will not like what they see when the curtains are pulled back.
However, continued transparency behind the motives and economic needs driving platforms such as Facebook towards business models such as online advertising is an important step when it comes to growing trust. Promoting more widespread understanding of how these systems and business models actually work is another – perhaps the most important of all.”
The optimistic view here is that knowing as much as possible about what, where and when we share our personal data can be the start of a more accountable – and therefore trusting – relationship with these platforms. If this truly comes to pass, over time we may well become more worried about those who don’t reveal the answers to such questions than those who do.”
“But – as has been made plain to see – there may well also be significant blind spots in the storage of or permissions attached to such data. To rebuild and maintain trust, the current spotlight on privacy cannot therefore simply move on to the next controversy; it must also be coupled with positive action by the likes of Facebook to strengthen and respect user data.
The good news is that we are already starting to see this and – perhaps surprisingly – are also beginning to see more constructive early discussions about social media legislation ”
The effect on brands
Asked whether this will affect the way publishers and brands use Facebook in the future, Megan explained,
“I don’t believe there will be any real change in the way brands are using and advertising on Facebook in the short-term. From a performance perspective, Facebook has been delivering great results for our clients, and until that performance starts to slip or there is a mass exodus of users, it will be hard for brands to make any meaningful move away from the platform.”
Tim adds, “understanding what exactly you are getting involved in is key. And so, if you are currently advertising to specific customers but don’t know exactly how their data is being used; asking the right questions of both your own organisation and of your advertising partners is an important step. Maintaining this commitment to your own customers should not be up for discussion.”
“Social media platforms aren’t going anywhere, and will doubtless remain a popular and effective way to communicate with customers. However, brands engaging in Social CRM-style advertising owe it to these same customers to demand and – crucially – to understand that their information is in turn safe and their privacy respected.”
The reality is that Facebook holds a huge piece of the social and digital pie which make it almost impossible for us to avoid. As a society we are addicted to what Facebook and the world of social media has to offer, so while the Cambridge Analytica scandal will have damaged Facebook’s reputation, it’s unlikely it will do any huge harm to the business long term.