Earlier this month, Facebook denied a request from Joe Biden’s campaign to remove a 30-second, false video ad promoted by President Trump’s campaign. The ad perpetuates an unsubstantiated, anti-Biden conspiracy, and has been rejected by CNN due to “demonstrably false” claims. Elizabeth Warren’s campaign has since, brilliantly, been running brazenly false, anti-Facebook ads with the goal of baiting the company on its formalized policy of allowing politicians to lie in ads.
These incidents have renewed calls for Facebook to ban political advertising full stop. “If (political ads) can’t be distributed safely, they shouldn’t be distributed at all,” wrote TechCrunch’s Josh Constine. Though it wouldn’t be out of the blue — Facebook has been taking arbitrary and administratively challenging steps toward ad “transparency” for months — such a change in policy would drastically alter how we in the business of advocacy, advertising, and digital strategy go about our work.
This brings us to a question that’s been haunting many internet users since 2016: Knowing everything we know now, is there any possible way to safely and ethically use Facebook? Is it still a good, honest investment? Should we even bother?
First, it’s important to recognize why some organizations use and, arguably, have to use Facebook. When news broke that Cambridge Analytica, a political firm that worked on President Trump’s 2016 campaign, used Facebook to harvest the private data of more than 50 million users without their permission, that was supposed to be the final straw. #DeleteFacebook started to trend on Twitter. Big brands Playboy, Tesla, and SpaceX all unpublished their pages (all continue to be active on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook). Despite all this, Facebook has continued to grow; the company reported yet another increase of 55 million users in the second quarter of 2019, bringing the total monthly active users to 2.41 billion.
"If you leave Facebook—which is where your friends, scene, and community already is—you’re alone, because for many people, Facebook is becoming the internet and the internet is becoming Facebook. Your business could have trouble reaching customers; your family might not gather on another social network; no one posts any events anywhere else."
I can’t quit Facebook, as a campaign strategist nor as an individual. I regularly participate in industry Facebook groups where I can swap ideas with like-minded professionals, I also depend on Facebook, Messenger, and Facebook-owned WhatsApp to stay in touch with fellow military families who now live half a world away. It would be a professional and personal loss to not have access to these daily exchanges. If a company, campaign, or advocacy organization wants to advertise to people like me, placing ads on Facebook is a good bet.
For brands like Tesla, they’ve ceded their Facebook presence and reputation to a number of Tesla fan pages that simply repost the company’s tweets. Maybe that’s not a bad thing for Tesla, a $22 billion company with a cult following that famously gets by on earned media, but it’d be a killer for small business.
Our firm, ACM Strategies, continues to advertise on Facebook. We continue to help our clients advertise on Facebook. Until there is a viable alternative, that’s not going to change (TikTok, by the way, is not that alternative).
So, short of a boycott, what steps can organizational leaders take to reduce Facebook’s unreliable control over their success?
Get your people off Facebook as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. As a digital strategy consultant, I generally advise clients to spend the bulk of their social media budget driving people to opt into their email or SMS lists or visit their website, rather than on Facebook page like ads. The average American checks their email 15 times a day and spends an astounding 2.6 hours a day reading and answering email. If you’re not building a robust email marketing program alongside your thriving Facebook page, you’re missing an opportunity and taking an unnecessary risk. There’s an even more compelling case to incorporate SMS broadcasts into your marketing strategy and reach supporters directly on their phones. According to mobile messaging vendor Twilio, more than 90 percent of all text messages are opened and read within 3 seconds of being received. The best part? You own your lists of opted-in emails and phone numbers, free from the undue influence of any one platform.
Invest in alternative options to gain new supporters/customers. Where Facebook is pretty universally effective, there are other, less-obvious venues advertisers should be exploring. We’ve had some success connecting our clients to new supporters through non-Facebook social networks. Though there’s still no surefire formula to replace the effectiveness of Facebook, using our ad budgets to bolster innovation and competition is ethically sound. More importantly, our clients can take comfort in knowing they have a diversified ad strategy.
Demand accountability. As Facebook’s customers and its product, it’s on us to loudly demand corporate accountability and outside regulation of Facebook. Elizabeth Warren is an admirable example of this. Her campaign is undoubtedly a Facebook customer, having spent more than $4 million on Facebook ads so far. Even Warren, who has promoted a plan to break up Facebook and other tech giants, recognizes that running a presidential campaign without a presence on the platform is too big of a risk. And that’s a problem.
Need help designing a more reliable strategy to communicate with supporters? We’re here for you. Schedule a call with the ACM Strategies team today