What Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica Scandal Means for Marketers

Facebook has hit the headlines for all of the wrong reasons in recent weeks after privacy concerns were raised in light of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

The story has been a PR disaster, one that has seen the social media giant come under increasing scrutiny from users — some of whom have been quitting the site in protest – and even the government who called CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify in front of Congress.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal has changed the way that people view a site that has become an intrinsic part of their lives and even forced Facebook to make changes to its own policies. But what does it mean for marketers?

What is the scandal all about?

For those who don’t already know, the scandal started on March 16th when Facebook suspended Cambridge Analytica (and its parent company SCL) from the social network, due to improper use of collected data.

In total, the London-based political consulting firm improperly mined data from more than 87 million users and used it to support social media campaigns for its clients.

After the activity was exposed by publications including The Guardian and The New York Times, Facebook itself has come under the spotlight as a result of growing concerns over the security of the personal information that the social media network has access to.

How has Facebook reacted?

Thrust into the spotlight as a result of Cambridge Analytica’s activities, Facebook has been on the defensive as government, media and even their own users have begun to ask tough questions about the use of data that the network has access to.

In response, Facebook has made a number of changes to improve transparency and provide greater control to users over how their information is shared. Some of the most notable changes that Facebook has implemented include:

  • Privacy Settings: Facebook has announced they will change the way in which people can access privacy settings, making it easier for users to control how the social network harnesses their data.
  • Terms of Services: Facebook has rewritten their Terms of Services to better clarify data collection policies. They acknowledged sharing information with their other app platforms such as Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp. They also show how information is being used for advertising.
  • Data Usage: In response to Cambridge Analytica’s activity, limitations and security measures are being applied by Facebook to third-party app usage. The new measures will change the way in which developers are able to access user data. Facebook will also impact on custom audiences by implementing a new permissions tool enabling advertisers to work with partners and agencies to manage audiences on their behalf. Finally, Facebook has announced that it will be removing ‘Partner Categories’ as well as Custom Audiences that have been uploaded by third-party data providers.

What does this mean for marketers?

Given the media attention that has surrounded the scandal and Facebook’s own moves to address user concerns, marketers are understandably concerned about how their own activity will be affected.

The good news is that, on the surface, it doesn’t look as though brands will have to implement drastic changes to the way in which they conduct their advertising activity. However, there are some important changes that companies need to take note of.

  • Audience reach: Despite media attention and high profile hashtags such as #DeleteFacebook, Mark Zuckerberg has stated that he hasn’t seen a “meaningful number of people” deleting their Facebook accounts since the scandal. The stats seem to back his statement up, with one survey from Marketing Week finding that only 7.66% of users reported deleting their Facebook account in the wake of the scandal.
  • User behavior: Though marketers are unlikely to see huge drop-offs in their audience numbers, it is important to note the impact that the scandal has had on the network. Users will understandably be more cautious moving forwards and we can expect to see greater interest in their privacy and the way that their data is shared. We can also expect to see users show greater restraint in the way in which they engage with Facebook, and it will be interesting to see if we see an increase in the use of tools such as ad-blockers as a result of the Cambridge Analytica fallout.

While understanding the changing attitude of their audience will be key for marketers, in essence, the scandal will have limited impact on their activity on the Facebook ecosystem. Indeed the impact on Facebook itself is expected to be negligible with the overall spend on the network expected to increase 16.9% year-on-year in 2018.

Brands have been understandably concerned to see Facebook in the spotlight, but it’s important to remember that this scandal is more about the issue of consent than the actual usage of data. The use of granular targeting to get the right information in front of the right users at the right time continues to be key to Facebook’s future, which is good news for the businesses who have made it a central part of their marketing activity.

However, in the wake of Cambridge Analytica, marketers need to ensure that their practices are more rigorous than ever before and that proper consent is being followed to ensure that tracking and data activity doesn’t infringe on users’ rights.

If you want to know more about how the Cambridge Analytica scandal might impact your business, or if you’re looking for help to unlock the potential of Facebook as part of your marketing activity, get in touch with our team of experts.

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