Facebook reputation sinks, more changes for marketers
Scandals have damaged Facebook’s public reputation and the tech giant plans to move into encryption and security – here’s what marketers and communicators using Facebook need to know.
Buzzsumo claims that 93.7% of businesses are using Facebook in 2019, which is probably overblown. What is NOT overblown is Social Media Examiner’s 2018 industry report finding only 49% of marketers feel their Facebook marketing is effective.
Facebook’s ever-changing, algorithm-driven approach to engagement and advertising confounds plenty of businesses, particularly those trying to use Facebook as an ‘also’ add-on to their strategic communications and marketing strategies. Facebook can be confusing, expensive and bloody hard to drive organic traffic with, unless a business is prepared to spend up big on their ads.
And while Facebook’s bid-priced ad system used to be an affordable way to target people, the prices have now gone up and Facebook has become a “pay to play” platform.
Digital marketer Ryan Deiss told his Traffic & Conversion Summit conference attendees last month that Facebook doubled its ad revenue between 2016 and 2018 - yet Facebook users grew by only 5%.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that’s something wrong there. Throw in Facebook’s privacy breaches, malevolent enabling of political game-players like Russia and that hideous Cambridge Analytica scandal, and you’ve got a recipe for one thing - change. And lots of it.
Key Facebook changes and what you should know:
#1 Facebook change: privacy and encryption will be the key to the future
Mark Zuckerberg has written a lengthy manifesto on Facebook’s future, which says “private messaging, ephemeral stories and small groups” are likely to become Facebook’s focus, rather than open sharing.
His vision sounds remarkably like an ambition to become WeChat, China’s successful social network that its citizens bank through, make purchases and interact with each other on.
In other words, Facebook want to get out of the business of sparking human rights abuses, twisting political results or exploiting people’s data.
#2 Facebook change: the news feed is on its way out
With the resignation of Chief Product Officer Chris Cox - who invented Facebook’s public-facing news feed - it seems right to predict the news feed could become less and less of a feature of Facebook.
What’s more, the news feed was how viral content spread its influenza, which is something a tech giant who wants to be known for safety, security and protecting privacy can no longer risk doing. Facebook professes not to be a publisher but has learned the hard way that it must be accountable as a tech platform that enables harmful content - like the terrorist footage from the recent Christchurch mosque massacre.
The news feed is how most people typically discover content or brands of interest . Without this feature, it’s not clear what benefits marketing through Facebook can offer, nor how its future advertising proposition will work.
#3 Facebook change: Facebook groups and messaging more important
With the plan to move to encryption - which is the feature Facebook-owned WhatsApp relies upon - Facebook may no longer have access to quite the same attitudinal, behavioural and demographic data it currently bases its huge advertising revenue upon.
It remains to be seen whether Facebook’s experts in data-trawling can somehow adapt their encrypted tech stack to provide the same targeting they offer today.
It seems the tide has turned on the “surveillance economy” that has turned people’s data into a commodity traded and bought by brands and businesses who want to advertise.
Zuckerberg claims people want features like safety, secure data storage, and encrypted private communications that “prevents anyone - including us - from seeing what people share on our services,” he wrote.
The other big change will be reducing the permanence of Facebook content, so - just like Snapchat’s successful feature of disappearing ‘snaps’ - no-one can get mad at Facebook for publishing drunken photos that a potential employer can go and look up years later.
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes at Facebook
Change is nothing new for Facebook - everything changes every six months or so - but these new changes look like impacting the many smaller businesses and brands trying to play in the Facebook ecosystem.
The changes have been prompted by Facebook’s huge decline in brand position - see the Harris Poll below to get an idea of how low Facebook’s public reputation has sunk - and a need for the company to position itself better for future growth.
“The privacy issues have been a severe threat,” says Facebook marketer Victoria Gibson.
She says Facebook ads - which don’t have a fixed price - have skyrocketed in the last two years as big brands are willing to pay more bucks on the platform.
“It can be very effective for marketers and some people are still making money from them - particularly people with innovative products,” she says.
But will we spend less time on Facebook with the changes?
Who knows? Gibson doesn’t think we will see Facebook usage drop too far.
“Facebook isn’t going away - what else are you going to do on your phone?” she says. “Probably go to Instagram or WhatsApp, which Facebook own anyway. Once Facebook use is embedded in a culture, it won’t disappear”
The world has never seen a platform like Facebook, which connected people in ways we didn’t understand until we logged in to that white and blue screen and discovered sharing photos, status updates, pokes and interests could become a compulsive browsing habit.
No-one can deny the platform’s success, which included:
2.7 billion people around the world using Facebook, Messenger, Instagram or WhatsApp in the last quarter of 2018;
4.4 million Australian users in 2018, mostly aged 25-44;
Australians spending an average of 10 minutes a day on Facebook in 2018.
That hideous plummet in public reputation has been a huge jolt to Facebook, and the company is planning an entirely different direction for the future – one that makes them more like China’s outrageously successful WeChat than the Facebook we know today.