The first time my eyes grazed a scrolling Facebook feed was the fall of 2004. I was visiting colleges as a high school senior and inside a shared dormitory of a small school in New England, was my first glimpse at what would soon be a global phenomenon. As my hosts huddled around the screen, the purpose of the platform was still unclear, yet the curiousness of it all was unmistakable.
What began as a simple idea quickly became perhaps the most efficient marketing platform known to man. Their transformation was subtle and swift, and their ability to monetize could almost be seen as magical. How did such a basic seed sprout become one of the most successful tech giants of our time?
As recent headlines suggest, Facebook’s infinite marketing wisdom has perhaps come at an unfortunate cost: their users. As they shared their personal lives in order to stay better connected with our increasingly globalized world, they suddenly became the product itself. Their friends, preferences, activities and more were suddenly of immense interest to not just Facebook (and their shareholders), but to any person or organization seeking to influence on the individual level.
As Mark Zuckerberg prepares to testify before Congress regarding his company’s data policies, marketers need to consider that the model they have built, like all things digital, is subject to change. The landscape is clearly shifting, and while nobody can accurately predict what the future of Facebook will be, this is a good time to make sure you are understanding how other platforms may support your campaigns and efforts.
Recently, I was discussing social media strategy with a friend who is running for political office and we concluded that the goal of the average Facebook user is to stay in touch with people they know. However, as it has grown to be a largely paid advertising platform for virtually every public figure, product, news outlet, and cause, the potency of every personal post has dwindled and for many users it often feels like time that could have been better spent. Many of these users have migrated to Instagram, where there is less room for news, politics, and pettiness – and more genuine sharing of personal life. Others have transferred their energy to Twitter, where the likelihood that you will connect with your actual friends is less, but the chances of connecting with, or learning about someone new is more. Lastly, others have ventured off into new territory like Vero and Ello, in an effort to simply start over and leave the last decade behind.
As we consider the future of Facebook at this time, marketers of all stripes should take a moment to reflect on what they would do if suddenly, for whatever reason, targeting posts with pinpoint precision was no longer a feature. What kinds of compelling content could you produce that does not rely on this function and how many different ways can you deliver it to your target audience? While many are unfazed by the apparent breach in trust between social media giants and their users, others are making a call to arms, pointing to other parts of the world like the EU, where privacy issues take a higher priority in the laws that govern how businesses operate.
Whichever side you fall on, just remember that if your goal is to sell a unique product, it is likely designed for a unique user – and that you might not find them in the same place as everybody else.