Why Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal makes me thrilled for the future of content marketing

by Ben Heiser, 21 May 2018

For most content marketers, social has been an incredible tool to promote content. But that doesn’t mean it’s been easy. Facebook’s dominance as a member of the duopoly meant that marketers were often responsible for reacting to snap changes on the platform and interpreting how their content would be judged by the almighty algorithm.

But with the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal, there are likely to be big changes at Facebook which will shift how marketers approach social content. And I see that’s going to be great.

Has Tech’s Ownership of Data Stymied Content?

I think, in a way, it has.

Big tech’s most valuable asset has always been its ability to leverage user data. Both Facebook (and Google) have wielded user data to dominate digital advertising and publishing—bringing most content creators under the yoke of their platform’s best practices.

That’s not to say that marketers haven’t benefited from more precise targeting and measurement capabilities. Anyone with a competent social program regards the Facebook pixel and GTM as all powerful, mystical tech wizardry that just makes campaigns work better.

But Facebook (and Google’s) monopoly on attention has forced marketers and content creators to play by their rules. Publishers were forced into pretzel-like contortions to get their stories out to users on Facebook—only to eventually be euthanized by the platform’s algorithm changes in January of 2018.

Companies like Little Things (who had an office a few floors down from where I worked) actually went out of business due to Facebook’s algorithm change.

The kicker, though, is that Facebook has always determined what content people were exposed to. Its algorithm played the role of judge, jury and executioner, which meant users weren’t in control of what they saw. And that was a problem.

Facebook’s Abuse of Content and Data has Slowly Eroded Trust

In 2010, an haunting IM conversation between Mark Zuckerburg and a Silicon Valley Insider was leaked to the public. It was the first of many small moments where Facebook’s policy on customer data would start to eat away at the public’s trust:

ZUCK: yea so if you ever need info about anyone at harvard
ZUCK: just ask
ZUCK: i have over 4000 emails, pictures, addresses, sns
FRIEND: what!? how'd you manage that one?
ZUCK: people just submitted it
ZUCK: i don't know why
ZUCK: they "trust me"
ZUCK: dumb fucks

Then in 2014, it was revealed that Facebook ran a study on half a million users to see if a manipulated news feed could affect people’s emotions. Turns out, it did and people were pissed.

But the turning point for Facebook had yet to come.

Facebook’s Involvement in the 2016 Election was The Turning Point

The 2016 election served as the first indicator that Facebook had an overwhelmingly powerful impact on what people saw and we learned first-hand how that affected their world view. This demonstrated that not only were newsfeeds becoming stale, but that content was being suppressed by the algorithms.

The Wall Street Journal beautifully demonstrated the phenomenon with its blue feed, red feed comparison.

These leaks have grown over the years. Each new chink in Facebook’s armor has shifted public perception of the platform and eroded trust in how they handle user’s data.

The Result? People are Leaving Facebook

The rift that was opened in 2016 loosened Facebook’s grip on the one thing they had to have: the trust of their users. That loss of trust is translating into a frightening loss of interest in the platform. According to Nielsen, through November of last year, Facebook lost about 4% in aggregated time spent.

When Nielsen update the report last month, that number jumped to a 24% decline in usage per person on the platform.

The abuse of data and algorithmic mind control is causing people to find better places for their attention and trust. Just look at Gen Z. In no time at all, Vero, the subscription-based, true social app, has shot past one million downloads on Android and hit number 1 on Apple’s app store in February.

People are starting to wake up. And they want to take back control of their digital data. Blockchain could provide the answer that could fundamentally change content marketing and digital advertising for the better.

Blockchain Could Usher in a New Era of Digital Marketing

Over the past few weeks, blockchain enthusiasts (they’re not all Bitcoin maniacs) have been advocating for a distributed ledger protocol that would allow individuals to own their digital identity. Here’s how it would work:

https://twitter.com/Fisher85M/status/977122069702901760

In this system, individuals have control of who their data is shared with, which hopefully empowers them to influence the content they engage with. Blockchain, coupled with the inevitable regulations and restrictions that will face both Facebook and Google, could usher in an environment that leads to a resurgence quality content who’s goal is to build a trusting relationship with an audience.

Why This is a Great Opportunity for Content Marketers

The shockwaves of this scandal might make it more difficult for current campaigns to be successful on Facebook. The platform is already making changes to protect itself by adopting new policies inspired by Europe’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). The FTC will undoubtedly result in the FTC stepping in to more heavily regulate how these platforms use personal data.

On one hand, this could usher in a publishing meritocracy where content creators are no longer as beholden to platforms like Facebook or Google. But even if it doesn’t, I think the shift in public awareness and sentiment is going to reprioritize valuable content and reward brands and publishers that create honest, meaningful experiences. For content marketers, that could be an incredible tailwind. It levels the playing field and will allow audiences to make the choice to be exposed to a brand and its content.

It’s an exciting opportunity and a great chance to forge new relationships between brands and audiences.

 

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