What the Facebook data scandal means for marketers

Unless you’ve been living under a rock like Patrick from Spongebob Squarepants, you’ve probably seen news stories about the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica data scandal. In a nutshell, Cambridge Analytica improperly obtained data and information on as many as 87 million Facebook users, most of whom are in the United States. They made an egregiously unethical decision to use this data to target voters and help sway public opinion during the 2016 Presidential election.

As a Facebook user for over 11 years, I’m mad about how the data was used. And as a marketing professional, I know there was a better way for Facebook to handle the situation. Data is incredibly important to the brands and advertisers my industry works with.

In response to the crisis, Facebook stated that it wasn’t a data breach, because users had knowingly consented to release their data to the app, rather it was a breach of trust. I asked one of our agency’s public relations experts, PR director Adam Lackey how he would have advised a client in Facebook’s situation. “If you find yourself arguing about technicalities in a crisis, you’ve already lost,” Lackey said.

If your company finds itself in a crisis, study up on crisis communication best practices and consult your communication plan before responding. Remember, if you’re arguing about technicalities, you’ve already lost.

As bad as this situation is for Facebook and as mad as users are, agencies like Two Rivers Marketing want to help remind the public about the value data has for marketers, and more importantly, your user experience. Before we get too far into the weeds of how data can positively impact your online experience, let me state, for the record, we take privacy protection and data privacy very seriously when using data for our marketing efforts, and this will continue to be a priority for us with the arrival of new privacy guidelines around the world, including the new European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Now that that’s out of the way, I’m going to share how we use data to help us better connect with and serve personalized and customized messages to users, by sharing examples from my own newsfeed.

Have you ever logged onto Facebook and seen an ad like this?Okay, maybe not this exact ad, but for me, this event is something I’d be interested in. Without the data Facebook collects on my interests, behaviors, and geography, my gym would have struggled to get this information about the event in front of me as I don’t like their page. Instead, I’d end up seeing a lot more ads that don’t relate to me, like this one:

Facebook ad

Spoiler alert: I’m not a chiropractor.

Data helps brands target Facebook users who are most likely interested in their content, but they can also use data to engage with you in more timely, relevant ways. This Orbitz travel ad is a great example. Orbitz started a conversation with me by choosing a message and image that resonates with my lifestyle. I love to travel and as a young professional, I’m always trying to get the most out of PTO. Orbitz knew this about me and tailored the message to fit. Co-workers who have children or friends who are stay-at-home parents would have received a very different ad that spoke to their lifestyle.

Facebook ad

Data can help deliver truly engaging content into your newsfeed, which is important, as paid advertising on social media isn’t going away anytime soon. If your newsfeed was suddenly full of sponsored posts that didn’t relate to you, you’d be irritated. I would. As marketers, we work hard to deliver engaging and relevant messages, but we also have a responsibility to ethically use data and maintain its security.

If you’re ever curious why an ad is being targeted to you, you can click on the ellipsis button, which will show you a variety of options including ‘Why am I seeing this ad?” Click it and Facebook will tell you exactly why you’re being shown the ad. For example, this is why Orbitz’s ad was showing up in my newsfeed:

Facebook why am I seeing this ad

As always, if you find the content appearing in your newsfeed to be irrelevant, you can hide the ad. It’s our goal as advertisers to make sure you don’t feel that way.

One way you can help ensure the ads in your newsfeed are being correctly targeted toward you is to go into your Facebook Settings to the Ads section.

Facebook ads setting

Here, you’ll be able to see your ad preferences, including what your interests are (i.e., what most Facebook ad targeting is based on). In the interests section you can review and amend what Facebook has noted so they’re accurate to what you’re truly interested in. Here are my interests related to Travel, Places, and Events.

Facebook ad interests setting

Overall, I felt they were pretty accurate, but I disagreed with the interests “lease” and “conviction,” so I removed them from my list of interests. In order to remove your unrelated interests, you just need to hover over the interest and the option to ‘x’ them out will appear.

If your interests are accurate, there’s a better chance you’ll find more relevant, engaging ads in your newsfeed. We are all on social platforms, like Facebook, because they’re a place for us to connect with people, places, events, and companies that are of interest to us. As marketers, our No. 1 goal is to ensure that we’re helping companies find you with messages that are timely, relevant, and interesting to your life.

Looking to better connect with your audiences on social media? Connect with us and we can make it happen.