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  • Writer's pictureChris Bowler

The coming post-Facebook world

Marketers need to prepare now

No, Facebook isn't going away. However, it's clear that it's platform as it's current working today will not survive.

Consider: 1) the investigation of data manipulation by Facebook (and other social media companies); 2) Facebook's very bad PR of privacy and political debacles; 3) the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which took affect this year; and 4) the coming California Consumer Privacy Act (CaCPA) going into affect in 2020.

It's simply going to be unavoidable for Facebook (and others) not to be impacted by these developments. At a minimum, we are looking at increased data security and privacy regulation. At a maximum, it's not inconceivable to think that Facebook may literally be forced to limit or shutdown key advertising features that have made it such a powerful platform.

If you want a fantastic overview of how Facebook advertising works today, there is no better articulation than a recent op-ed in the New York Times. A key paragraph:

'Facebook has a lot of data on their users and is eager to monetize it. The advertisers are encouraged to selectively target people according to a mind-boggling range of personal characteristics. Some, such as age, gender or location, are not overly intimate. Others, such as your political views, family size, education, occupation, marital status or interest in a gay dating app, are highly personal.'

Facebook is arguably the most powerful advertising platform because of this targeting capability - or 'hypertargeting' - which allows marketers to deliver messaging with laser-precision. And, it's superior to Google in some respects, as the available targeting dimensions go way beyond demographics and include personality, psychology, and a user's social connections.

Facebook is just not going to be allowed to self-regulate, especially as it increasingly faces scrutiny from the European Union. But what form of regulation and limitations will take place is anyone's guess. But what we already are seeing as a result of the GDPR gives us some clues. Marketers would be advised to start preparing for the potential disruption which may result in the following ways.

First, greater transparency is going to be required. Just like the GDPR has required online properties to disclose data usage, Facebook will have to put in place increased notifications to their users. This could be simply banner, pop-up, or persistent messaging within the newsfeed area which overtly describes (warns) the user on how their data is being used. It's very possible a regulation may require notification before a user clicks on an ad. This would disrupt the user experience, of course, likely lowering click-thrus across Facebook, which the company will resist to the max.

Second, it's also possible that certain targeting features could be watered down, thus decreasing Facebook's targeting value. Marketers can prepare now by creating their own data files based on Facebook campaigns, thereby learning as much about these users before it's taken away.

Third, it's very possible that data files may be restricted from exchanging hands. Of course, Facebook already restricts selling data to advertisers (although it has contemplated doing so). However, it's fairly standard practice for advertisers to share their customer data, including email lists, to Facebook, in order to further target these users, as well as create 'look-alike' audiences. The day that these actions may be prevented, or regulated, will soon be here. Marketers should realize it may not be sufficient to merely post a privacy policy which discloses these activities somewhere online. It's not inconceivalbe to think that a marketer may have to actively notify a user when data sharing activity takes place.

No doubt we will see further evolution on these fronts in 2019. It would be wise for marketers to start thinking through remediation steps, especially for brands who are heavily reliant on Facebook / Instagram media buys.

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