Facebook Marketing: Stay the Course or Pull the Plug?

March 27, 2018

What Happened?
Facebook is under fire to address privacy concerns after it was recently revealed that some 50 million user profiles were harvested without informed consent by a University of Cambridge researcher’s personality app. This researcher then passed the collected information to a political data analytics firm named Cambridge Analytica, whose services were enlisted by members of then-candidate Donald Trump’s US presidential election campaign. The collected Facebook data reportedly informed some of the 2016 campaign’s ads and techniques.

After the news first broke on March 17th, Facebook’s head executives responded by saying that the platform’s security measures had not been breached and the social media giant didn’t do anything wrong. The voice of CEO and Founder, Mark Zuckerberg, was noticeably missing from this response until he posted on Facebook on Wednesday, March 21st. In addition to apologizing and admitting that the company made mistakes, Zuckerberg welcomed any summons to testify in Congress and announced that Facebook will be conducting an audit of all apps collecting user information from the platform.

Hot off the heels of external political interference from Russian trolls within Facebook, it appears vulnerabilities in the world’s largest social media network have now become major issues of trust.

What’s Relevant for Pharma Marketers?
While Pharma traditionally is not a major spender in social media, it has increasingly ventured into Facebook with branded and unbranded pages, ad campaigns, and promotional efforts as the platform has emerged as the online king of time and attention. According to the Pew Research Center’s March 2018 report on social media, 68% of American adults now use Facebook and nearly three quarters of these users visit the site daily.

As Facebook begins to face its situation, many pharma brand teams and marketers are undoubtedly questioning their timing and commitment to the platform — especially as they witness other brands hold off spend, see celebrities grab headlines by shutting down personal and company pages (yes, you Elon Musk), and witness their friends and peers decry the end of their time on the platform.

As you contemplate the fate of your media spend, here are 5 compelling reasons to stay the course with your brand plans should they involve Facebook.

1) The reactionary wave for #DeleteFacebook has passed
Simply because a couple of friends in your network proclaim this is the “last straw” and they are deleting their Facebook account does not mean the masses will. A year ago, it was the #DeleteUber hashtag and, while Facebook’s dilemma is of a larger scale, the data from Google Trends on #DeleteFacebook appears to have peaked a few days ago.

Exhibit. 1: Google Trends: interest in “DeleteFacebook”

Source: Google Trends for “DeleteFacebook,” afternoon of Mar 26th, 2018. USA only.

2) The fundamentals remain sound
Facebook serves the need for interaction between 2 billion people globally and generated advertising revenues of nearly $40B in 2017. As we all now know, the platform’s targeting abilities can define incredibly interesting audiences for brands and allow them to maximize spend and deliver content experiences that are enticing on either mobile or desktop. Furthermore, Facebook has developed a robust client service model specifically for overcoming the hurdles of healthcare advertising. Many Facebook teams now partner directly with brands and digital agencies to shepherd pages and campaigns to completion and help enable the production process — and many of these same Facebook teams are now working through this issue of trust with their clients.

3) Both company and government measures will strengthen the platform and protections for users
Mark Zuckerberg himself has already listed a series of aggressive actions to earn back trust — from auditing data-collecting apps, to notifying members who may have had their data accessed, to providing more visibility to tools that help manage privacy. The list of steps may not be exhaustive, and plenty of other measures have been suggested, but Facebook has pivoted to addressing issues with a comprehensive plan of action and signaled to lawmakers their openness to regulation.

Zuckerberg has also just agreed to testify at Congress; regulation may come for Facebook; and it will likely impact the broader data-collection & mining industry. In turn, it will likely also impact the thousands of other companies who harvest user data as part of their business model. This event has been a wake-up call for many, but it has also hastened work towards protections for consumers.

4) Look at intent
Facebook’s fundamental aspiration is granting users the ability to find personal meaning in the content they share, and that shouldn’t necessarily be muddied by the dubious motives or actions of companies like Cambridge Analytica. In 2007, when Facebook stated its intention to behave like an operating platform, it also provided developers tools to connect users’ lives in new ways. As a result, over a million apps are now available to the 2+ billion users of the platform. And while they potentially made some major missteps along the way, it’s a pretty remarkable feat for a company to connect a good portion of the world in the span of fourteen years.

5) Go back to the patient
At the heart of our industry lies the patient (and caregiver) — and social media is intertwined with many of their lives. Their hopes, fears, and individual health journeys are now routinely shared as they seek support, validate their feelings, and document the trials and triumphs of their healthcare experience. We are all ultimately social creatures and it feels hard to believe that, with what we know right now, this is a community to walk away from.

What Should You Do?
There are obvious areas in Facebook that will now be higher-risk investments — for instance, it is likely not the week to consider launching your data-harvesting Facebook health app or ad experience.

For all other intents and purposes, there are other things you can do besides staying the course:
1) Stay vigilant. Educate yourself and your team/organization on issues that Facebook is facing, as they will no doubt inform the platform’s future policy changes.
2) Keep audience-facing stakeholders informed. Any team or job role that is charged with keeping your audience in mind (marketers, patient support, even your legal and regulatory team) should understand the sensitivities around this issue and factor them into future decision-making.
3) Take a proactive stance. Whether it’s via a social post (apropos), an email, or a company blog post — companies would be wise to get in front of the issue and quell any nervous feelings held by key audiences and stakeholders via a statement on data and privacy efforts.

Heartbeat’s Social Media practice, led by veteran digital and social marketing expert Henry Anderson, will continue to monitor the news and share updates as more data is available.

Until then, keep posting, scrolling, and liking/loving/emoji-ing — just like the rest of the world has resumed doing.