It’s been a long month for digital and social media.
On March 16, Facebook made headlines when it suspended Cambridge Analytica and its parent company, SCL Group, a private British behavior research and strategic communication company, for not deleting data from a developer that violated platform policies. Within a couple of days, the case twisted and spiraled to reports that Cambridge Analytica was not only able to pull data for up to 87 million Facebook users, but also exploit enough information to develop psychographic profiles on tens of millions. This violation is currently being investigated at the highest levels, particularly around voter targeting, by the U.S. and U.K.
Fighting fraud and inappropriate use of private content is not a new concept, but this incident is emitting particularly heavy shockwaves, as the Facebook’s overall crisis response left plenty to be desired. We’re only just starting to see the beginning stages of meaningful change, as detailed in the company’s Newsroom post on April 4.
But the better late than never adage isn’t doing much to ease apprehension around the state of digital, and we’re already seeing high-level change pressing ahead, like the Global Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the U.K., which will go into effect in May 2018, impacting how companies and marketers can collect, store and use marketing data. We’re also seeing stories from years prior brought back to the forefront, like Proctor and Gamble’s (P&G) 2017 decision to pull marketing dollars out of digital and reinvest into other areas of media like television, radio and ecommerce. While P&G’s decision was not a response to the recent Facebook breach, it’s now considered an example of how major brands are using their buying power to pressure change among digital giants to help ensure security.
In the same breath, it’s easy to see the negative and wrongdoing in a crisis, but perhaps it’s okay to also recognize the innovation and good a medium like Facebook has provided. There’s a reason Facebook has become so big and so beloved for advertising and for small businesses, and it has to do with that same data that’s generating concern. Facebook’s collection of demographic information, combined with its relatively low advertising cost, has provided massive returns for companies that need to advertise but don’t have a million-dollar budget. It’s changed the landscape and allowed small businesses to compete in ways they historically could not, and that’s a big deal.
The Facebook crisis, the way it will impact digital practices, and how social companies use personal information are important issues, but many elements still need to unfold, and no one has all of the answers. Seeing how Facebook is being questioned so intensely, we have a feeling 2018 will be a year of regulation, when digital and social media will encounter a “day of reckoning.” This means, no matter their potential value, the Googles and Facebooks will need to justify policies, answer questions of accountability and provide more and better transparency that is more easily understood and accessible.
So, how are we responding, as marketing professionals? We’re carefully monitoring how digital outlets continue to respond and update their policies to make sure customers stay safe and advertisers remain confident in their media advertising decisions. We’re also, as always, helping our clients to take a broad-spectrum look at their marketing plans to make sure they are diversified across multiple platforms, not putting all eggs into one basket, so to speak. And of course, we will continue to work with our media partners to protect our client’s digital advertising expenditures.