Should companies #DeleteFacebook?
Data Privacy and Security

Should companies #DeleteFacebook?

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak announced that he had deleted his Facebook account and called on others to do the same, he became one of a number of high powered executives and influencers to end their relationship with the social media giant. In the wake of Cambridge Analytica’s use of Facebook data to influence political views, there has been increasing push back against the companies providing such social platforms, especially Facebook. People like Elon Musk have deleted not only their personal Facebook accounts but those of their business interests too. SpaceX and Tesla both no longer have Facebook accounts.

The moves have posed some difficult questions for the C-Suite, challenging them to decide whether this data controversy should be the impetus for a withdrawal from social networks such as Facebook.

Brennan Wilkie, SVP of CX (customer experience) strategy at CX feedback intelligence company, InMoment says that the Cambridge Analytica breach should not be viewed in either a corporate or policy vacuum; it is a matter of human relationships and trust.

“The perception that today's consumers will give away their personal data without regard to how or where it's used is absolutely false. In fact, research shows that today's citizens are more discerning and savvier about this issue than ever,” Wilkie says.

 

How should businesses respond to users’ concerns?

InMoment's 2018 CX Trends Report revealed that 75 percent of US consumers find most forms of brands' attempts at personalization and the associated data collection somewhat creepy. In a stunning admission, 40 percent of brands classify their “personalization” efforts the same way. Wilkie adds: “And there are financial and reputational consequences: 20 percent of customers say they will stop using a brand after a creepy experience, 31 percent will share the negative experience via their networks, and 22 percent will start looking for other options.” The question then is how should businesses respond to users’ concerns?

There has been a push for companies to show their solidarity with consumers and to delete their own accounts but the real figures of corporates deleting their Facebook accounts seem to be quite low. A survey by cyber security company Barracuda via 350 attendees at the Cloud Expo Europe event in London found that while the level of trust in Facebook is now pretty low among the IT community, only 12% had actually deleted their account since the news. Almost 30% had amended their personal security and sharing settings, however.

Consumers are not completely averse to sharing their information, but only when there is true transparency and they receive something that they, versus the brand, truly value in return. “The Facebook fiasco, while dramatic, is just one of innumerable instances of the new contract between brand and customer being violated. Organizations that embrace this time as an opportunity to bring customers closer and include them in the co-creation of a new framework – one that is an authentically mutually beneficial relationship – will be at a massive competitive advantage.”

Ben Williams, Director of Communications and Operations of Adblock Plus, says that for most businesses, deleting Facebook is just not an option. There are billions of users on Facebook and not having a presence there is simply not an option for most brands that do not have an established reputation and global audience or a particularly niche audience,” he says.

He adds that removing your brand from Facebook is like excluding billions of people from seeing your company and what it is about. Instead, Williams says, brands should learn to use Facebook wisely.

“Let’s not forget that Facebook provides a huge platform, so beyond the PR value of announcing you’re leaving the platform, you’d be shooting yourself in the foot,” he says. “The Cambridge Analytica fiasco should and most likely will act as the biggest learning point not only for Facebook, but other giant technology companies. The reality is that if Facebook continues to abuse users' trust, it is the users who will quit.”

At that point, Williams says, brands will know when it is time to pull the plug and leave the social media channel. “At the moment, the platform is too big and too powerful for brands to pull their names from it. That is to say, it’s too big to fail.”

 

Apple and Tesla don’t need Facebook

Stronger regulations are already on the way in the EU to protect personal information. Williams points to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) as a milestone that sets the tone for how people’s information needs to be handled. “I think the move to give consumers greater control of their data will only continue both in Europe and further afield,” he says, adding that the most significant change will be the expansion of self-regulation – individual consumers taking responsibility for their data and ensuring their privacy.

“As consumers become more savvy about their data and how it can be used, or misused, then more people will use tools designed to block tracking that they feel is too intrusive. The growth in the use of ad blockers in recent years has come about in part because people don’t want companies nosing around how they use the internet. Greater user control will be one of the big changes we will see over the next few years,” Williams says.

Certainly the size of a business makes a difference to whether or not it can afford to just delete its Facebook account. Glen Allsopp, CEO and Founder of Detailed.com, explains that people like Steve Wozniak and especially Elon Musk are in a position where these things are not crucial for them in any way.

“Elon probably received what likely amounts to millions of dollars in free press for Tesla with his actions. Steve Wozniak is worth billions and will never need to work again,” he says. “Nobody is going to be writing stories about the local plumber who deleted his page in retaliation for the latest findings.”

Allsopp believes that if your business is in any way reliant on Facebook, then you have to stick with it unless you are really going to go all in another platform – even then, though, Instagram, for example, is owned by Facebook as well.

“Unless you're going to get press like Elon and Steve for your retaliation, it's likely not worth it, especially if Facebook is bringing new or repeat business to your company,” he says.

 

SMBs shouldn’t rely on Facebook

Penny Sansevieri, CEO of Author Marketing Experts and an Adjunct Professor with NYU, agrees, saying that regardless of how we feel about its privacy issues, or lack thereof, most companies need Facebook. “When Apple or any other big names does this, it likely doesn’t affect their brand a whole lot. But for your average business who sees a lot of results from Facebook, I think the action is misplaced.”

Sansevieri advises that businesses not put all their eggs in one social media basket, however. “Make sure that your website is always the hub of your business. We don’t do business on social networking sites, we network there and do business on our website. Most people do that in reverse. They look to sites like Twitter and Facebook as business opportunities – and for many they are,” she says. “But a good rule in business is to understand that these are “feeder sites” and networking opportunities.”

For Sansevieri, business owners should focus on building their brand on their site, with a blog and a newsletter – which is a much more direct link to their consumer than a Facebook feed that is possibly subject to whatever is going on with the algorithm that day.

Allsopp says that one good thing that could come from removing your business from Facebook is to force you to look at ways to benefit from another platform. “If you haven't been focused on SEO and improving your 'organic' search engine rankings, or improving your ad buying skills on Google Adwords, having some free time from Facebook might help you dominate a new channel,” he says.

Djamel Agaoua, CEO of Viber, says the real question is not whether or not brands should delete Facebook, but rather how they should re-examine the way they are using it and the value they are getting. “In the beginning, people measured likes and fans, then engagement values,” Agaoua says.

For Agaoua, Facebook’s recent data scandal presents an opportunity for brands to reconsider how they use social and messaging-based sites to connect with customers. “Engaging with consumers on Facebook may be perceived by some users as a way to grab some data about them instead of delivering a real service for customers. Facebook is a staple of nearly every marketing strategy, but many businesses don’t take the time to consider how Facebook activities actually relate to who their customers are,” he says.

In some cases, Agaoua notes, brands will find that Facebook only allows them to “talk at” consumers, rather than have a meaningful conversation. “As Facebook’s value comes into question, brands should consider how their presence on the platform impacts their relationships with customers, both as it relates to data collection practices and their overall profile perception.”

He warns that being an advertiser on Facebook may also have some negative impacts for the brands. Now that users are aware their chats, even their more private ones, have been used by Facebook to sell ads, the brand itself may be seen as an accomplice of the social network. “And this could have a negative impact on brand perception,” Agaoua says.

Matthew Kershaw, MD of the content team at Iris, agrees, noting that the real issue is that over time, Facebook has reduced the value of an 'organic' post to zero. In other words, he says, an almost imperceptible number of people who 'like' your page will see anything you post unless you've paid Facebook to boost it.

“On that basis, Facebook is like any other mass media channel and will be appropriate for certain tasks and inappropriate for others. The question will be around the cost and impact with which you can reach the audience you are trying to reach versus the other channels available to you,” Kershaw says.

 

Demand change

There are other bigger questions to be posed too. Dimitri Sirota, CEO of BigID, is not convinced that the #DeleteFacebook movement will gather sufficient momentum to cause any lasting damage to the social media giant. “If you remember the #DeleteUber movement last year, many said it would be the downfall of the ride sharing app. But ultimately, millions of people still use the service every day. I expect the #DeleteFacebook movement will have a similar trajectory,” he says.

He believes, though, that these types of failings from organizations we are supposed to be able to trust to do the right thing – whatever that may be – should be a stepping stone for individuals and other organizations to demand change. “In the case of the Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal, deleting pages may be the first step for some, but given the situation, the real question should be around what happens to the deleted data after a page is removed and how Facebook can better collect, manage and use the data of users who choose to stay on the platform,” he says.

One way that Sirota believes companies can show that they support the fair and transparent use of data is to push for regulation beyond just the social networks they engage with. “They should be advocating for broad data privacy regulations that apply to any organization that collects and stores data on their customers and employees. To date, there have already been some important global regulations passed and implemented that mandate this approach,” he says.

He points to GDPR as an example. GDPR aims to rebalance how organizations collect and process their data, and by promulgating a broad range of rights from data access to erasure, promotes better accountability to customers and employees through better data accounting.

“In his Congressional testimony, Mark Zuckerberg indicated he thought GDPR in general will be a positive step for the internet. And given its global implications, it will set data privacy standards felt by organizations around the world. Yet, there are still plenty who won’t be bound by its requirements,” Sirota says. For example, Facebook is not required to extend GDPR’s benefits to all users, just to those located in the EU.

Sirota believes that, in terms of the United States, then, it is the ownership of organizations – across technology and other industries – as well as individuals to push for change. This change, he says, typically falls across two main prongs: pushing for U.S. federal and state level regulations that mandate certain data transparency and collection rights for U.S. citizens; and demanding the companies they engage with are more transparent with how data is collected, how it is used and if there is consent from the data subject for that use.

 

Be transparent about data practices

Chris Ross, SVP International of Barracuda, points to the security issues not only around the way businesses interact with consumers but also with the way employees use the platform.  He recommends that those choosing to continue to leverage Facebook as a business platform should review some basic controls such as:

  • Consider who is allowed to share data. For example, create policies so only certain authorized groups can post to the corporate Facebook account
  •  Be aware of attempts to leverage information that is available in your company's social profile. For example, spear phishing to target execs, exfiltrate data, steal credentials
  • Train your users to recognize such attempts and take appropriate action

“While the longer-term effect on Facebook’s reputation remains to be seen, we expect to see organizations making decisions about whether the platform poses a security risk and how to minimize the threat on those occasions where an alternative option just doesn’t exist,” Ross adds.

Agaoua adds that, following these data breaches, it is important for brands associated with Facebook and others to define their use of customer data, and its impact on the user experience. Being transparent about data practices is something every brand should champion, especially as it relates to personalizing experiences and advertising to a user.

“Consumers today want a catered experience, but they also want to be in control of how that experience is created and maintained,” he says. “Secondly, brands need to examine how social and messaging platforms create meaningful conversations with customers. Regardless of whether they decide to leave Facebook or not, how brands choose to broadcast and implement their own standards for data privacy will make all the difference with consumers.”

 

So will this scandal spell the end for Facebook? Most think not or at least not yet. Williams says: “Facebook is, as I said before, too big to fail. Instead what this will do is teach other social media channels how to protect their users’ data more effectively. It’s one of those things that was very unfortunate, but it can also act as one of the biggest learning steps, not only for Facebook but for similar channels looking to make their mark.”

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Bianca Wright

Bianca Wright is a UK-based freelance business and technology writer, who has written for publications in the UK, the US, Australia and South Africa. She holds an MPhil in science and technology journalism and a DPhil in Media Studies.

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