Sorry Facebook, It’s Not Me, It’s You…

by | Jun 14, 2018 | General Marketing Tips

Facebook DislikeThe typical target market for financial and health newsletters – 55 and older – is probably familiar with the 1955 film, The Seven-Year Itch, starring Marilyn Monroe. The psychology behind the phrase, which also forms the premise of the film, suggests that happiness in a relationship declines after around year seven of a marriage. In the bigger picture, it also indicates cycles of dissatisfaction in any kind of longstanding commitment, like working a full-time job or buying a house, where happiness often begins to fall through the cracks over long periods of time.

Since its launch in 2007, Facebook has faced a few criticisms over its practices and policies. But these all pale in comparison to the hammering it has been getting in the first half of 2018. It looks like the public and regulators have managed to stretch seven years of declining satisfaction with the media giant to an eleventh year of severe itching that cannot be ignored for much longer.

Breaking up or making up?

The Cambridge Analytica scandal has served Facebook its biggest blow, leading to an uncomfortable Zuckerberg having to answer to the US Congress and other elected politicians for its shoddy handling of user data.

In the wake of the scandal, Facebook’s shares plummeted disastrously, and even though stock has since bounced back, the company’s rapid-growing revenue and profits did not quash the concerns of the company’s most vocal critics: Its very own shareholders.

At their Annual Shareholders Meeting one shareholder told Mr Zuckerberg: “Take a page from history: emulate George Washington, not Vladimir Putin.” Another, Christine Jantz, chief investment officer for NorthStar Asset Management, said the leak of personal data from up to 87 million Facebook users was “tantamount to a human rights violation.”

Talk about not mincing your words.

But the dust is far from settling.

In a court case filed earlier this year Facebook was accused of using its apps gather information about users and their friends, including some who had not signed up to the social network, reading their text messages, tracking their locations and accessing photos on their phones.

It all comes down to an accusation of mass surveillance. The court papers state “Facebook continued to explore and implement ways to track users’ location, to track and read their texts, to access and record their microphones on their phones, to track and monitor their usage of competitive apps on their phones, and to track and monitor their calls.”

While Facebook did not respond directly to questions about mass surveillance, the company said that the complainant’s “claims have no merit, and we will continue to defend ourselves vigorously.”

Saga to be continued…

Then, on Sunday the 3rd of June, The New York Times reported that data of users and their friends could be accessed by makers of smartphones and tablets under longstanding data-sharing partnerships with Facebook.

The partners in question include Apple, Amazon, Blackberry, and Samsung, sharing information on religious and political views and data from users who had asked not to have it shared with third parties. Again, Facebook’s defense is that it was unaware of any misuse of the data, and that the vast majority of the data was stored on people’s own phones, not on a company server.

Apple, for one, is waging war against Facebook as it announced last week at its WWDC conference that it will “frustrate” tools used by Facebook to automatically track web users, within the next version of its iOS and Mac operating systems.

Apple’s software chief Craig Federighi made no bones about the company’s position, saying: “We’ve all seen these – these like buttons, and share buttons and these comment fields. Well it turns out these can be used to track you, whether you click on them or not… We’re shutting that down.”

It looks like there is no end in sight to allegations of surveillance, bridges of privacy and data misuse. No wonder regulators, competitors and even Facebook’s own investors are questioning the company’s “corporate dictatorship.”

“When something itches my dear sir,
the natural tendency is to scratch.”

– Dr. Brubaker (The Seven-Year Itch)
So, are we breaking up with Facebook?

Personally, I think it’s too early to say… but I’m happy to speculate.

The fact that Facebook has fallen into ill favor is also trickling down to its users. The US-based Pew Research Centre recently published the results of a survey that showed US teenagers are ditching Facebook in favor of platforms such as YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat.

According to the results, 51% of the 95% of teenagers who have access to smartphones use Facebook. This is a 20% drop since 2015, when a similar survey was last conducted on teens’ social media habits. 85% of teenagers now prefer using YouTube over Facebook and in second and third place are Instagram (72%) and Snapchat (69%). The number of teens who use Twitter (32%) and Tumblr (14%) are largely unchanged compared to the 2015 results.

I’m not claiming that teenagers care too much about the misuse of their private data (they may not even be aware of it). However, the fact is that users are jumping the Facebook ship and even though the target market of the Agora companies is a good 40 years older than the average fickle teenager, it will be foolish not to recognize that on all other counts our “marriage” with the social media giant is in trouble. (Let’s not forget that the 18 year-olds of today are the 55 year-olds of tomorrow).

Anecdotally, I’ve personally seen a massive drop in my friends’ activity on Facebook (demographic 40 – 65 years old) and it’s a trend many of my acquaintances have also noticed and I suspect so did Facebook.

In an effort to clean up its act, Facebook has launched a television ad campaign with the tag line “here together.” It’s a commendable attempt to assure (and promise) its users that the social network will return to doing what it was originally built for: bringing people closer…

So, less spam and less fake news (at least that’s what Facebook promises).

But “spam” and “fake news” can be almost anything.

It could be the headline of your ad copy, going goes against the grain of Facebook’s “community guidelines” for being to “provocative,” “inflammatory,” or “speculative.”

Before you know it, a slew of your ads have been disapproved.

It’s a frustrating scenario many digital marketers have become familiar with and as compliance on major platforms is becoming trickier along with what appears to be “thinly veiled censorship” many digital marketers now sit with an itch that needs to be scratched.

Saving our “marriage” with the media goliath

The tricky thing about our relationship with Facebook is that as digital marketers we can’t simply go for a clean break. A significant amount of our leads are still generated on the platform, so we are forced to play by their rules. It’s a reality we have to live with for now. And it’s a relationship that we will have to keep working at. This means milder copy, fewer big promises, and paying particular attention to their ever-changing community guidelines and best practices.

Ultimately, taking these steps comes down to reputation management. As digital marketers, we like to push the envelope, but there also comes a time when we must know when to pull in the reins… just a bit… for the sake of our business.

Many make the mistake of not exploring all the other opportunities available. Focusing too much of your marketing strategy on the big players like Facebook and Google also narrows down your audience, and I believe, it saturates these platforms with your message – potentially leading to audience fatigue. So, it pays to cast your net much wider.

Even though Native networks are also fairly strict about compliance, they still give marketers plenty of opportunities to hit an audience in a way that could be more compelling, or different. So, don’t underestimate their potential. Brian Swift, Account manager at AIM, brought in over 19,000 leads at a cost of $1.18 each, in just one month on one of these platforms. Given the chance, you canmake these platforms work for you.

As much as it may feel like “cheating,” the time has also come to explore alternative social media platforms like Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn and YouTube. Some of these social media platforms are very image driven, so in a world where copy is still considered to be king, marketers often scoff at these channels. However, in recent years, video in particular has become the standard delivery format for promotions across the information-marketing world.

In addition, the user base for platforms like Instagram continues to grow. Instagram in particular is nearing the 1 billion mark, which means you could potentially reach a highly targeted new audience and convert them immediately to readers and customers, with a simple “one step removed” strategy.

While the typical Instagram audience skew slightly to a younger crowd, 5% of its users now fall within the 45 and older age-bracket. A recent report from a provider of influencer marketing tools, showed that the group most likely to search out products after seeing Instagram promoted posts is those aged 65 through 74. So, it looks like there is a shift in demographics on the visual social network.

And don’t ignore the potential staying power of Pinterest, with its robust targeting options and 37 million users with an average household income of $100k or higher.

Then there is also your most powerful digital asset. It’s the space where you are in complete control of your message and you are guaranteed immunity against ad account suspensions or being forced to dilute your best and most contrarian content. I’m talking about your website.

By focusing on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to increase your organic reach can turn your website into a name generation machine, bringing in names that are often 3 to 4 times more valuable than those brought on through paid search. While SEO is a marathon and not a sprint, investing the time and energy in it definitely pays off in the end.

While the growth of our businesses primarily relies on generating new leads and growing our lists, we often neglect the relationship we have with our existing customers. How much energy do you spend on special renewals, abandon emails, remarketing efforts, upsells and cross-sells, testing new ideas to your existing list, diversifying your product range, and segmenting your list with the aim to target specific buyers? Do you literally “leave money on the table” by ignoring the obvious market place: your existing loyal customers.

Digital marketing isn’t just about marketing and selling. It’s also about finding innovative ways to create new relationships and nurturing existing relationships. Eleven years ago, very few of us thought that Facebook would be the mega media force it is today. People laughed at the idea of using it as a platform to sell products and services…

Today, marketers have become so reliant on this platform that the thought of it going away is almost unimaginable. Facebook’s relationship has gone sour with almost everyone, and this inevitably affects what we do: reaching new customers.

So, we have to ask ourselves: Do we stay put to see if this relationship survives itself, or do we innovate and find new ways to do what we do, but only better?

Within the Agora companies, we often talk about “accelerated failure.” It’s part of the ethos of The Agora – fail fast and learn something from that failure. While the current rocky relationship many of us experience with Facebook is not exactly a “failure,” it could be a failure on our part if we don’t learn to diversify every aspect of our businesses before the proverbial goose stops laying golden eggs.