A news frenzy has erupted around some data taken from Facebook's platform in 2014. This data was purportedly used to target ads and some have made the leap from targeted ads to affecting the 2016 presidential race and the Brexit vote. Ultimately, the story is rather mundane but debunking the press spin is rather entertaining. Check out our full POV (download at bottom of post) to get the full story.
It’s a safe bet that 99.9% of marketers know about the scandal surrounding Facebook because of Cambridge Analytica’s use of its data to help political parties craft and target messages and attempt to sway public opinion. Or, as we might say in the industry, “shape the conversation.”
As a recap, a whistleblower named Christopher Wiley has accused Cambridge Analytica, the company that he helped create, with using data scraped from Facebook plus other sources to help political campaigns. This data, and the ways in which Cambridge Analytica tried to use it, are troubling to say the least. The most strident voices are blaming the Trump presidency and the Brexit “yes” vote on the company’s activities and calling the scandal an “existential threat” to Facebook.
We don’t agree with that position for many reasons described further in this POV. There are three essential things that a pharma marketer needs to take away from this story:
1. Facebook Will Weather This Storm
Pundits love to predict the demise of something. Don’t believe it. Facebook is busy optimizing the experience for their over-two-billion users and while growth will slow because they have already saturated so many markets, advertising results on the platform have never been better.
Financially, the company valuation is down $100 billion as of this writing (let that sink in for a moment) but that still puts it at the same level as the start of 2018, and its cash position is good. There is no liquidity issue for Facebook. It has users who aren’t leaving, an ad platform that performs well, good revenue, and cash in the bank.
2. Cambridge Analytica Couldn’t Get the Same Data Today
The API that allowed Cambridge Analytica to pull “friends of friends” data was discontinued in 2014. As it turns out, the Cambridge Analytica data was based on paid Mechanical Turk registrations and their 270K app registrations became 50 million user records but with very low quality as evidenced by news reports from the period.
3. Facebook Targeting Will Change
While Facebook isn’t going anywhere, marketers do need to know that the targeting mechanisms at Facebook are changing as the company takes an even more protective view of users’ data privacy. They have been shifting control from the advertiser to the user for a while, and we expect that trend to continue.
The two biggest changes are:
- Custom Audiences data policies are changing but marketers who use agencies familiar with Facebook advertising will likely see few changes though the overhead with creating custom audiences may increase and there may be some turmoil as the data providers come to terms with the new rules
- Ad targeting will likely get even more restrictive which will put more pressure on advertisers to leverage custom audiences, and especially the Facebook Pixel, in their targeting
How Marketers can Cope
Stay in touch with your agencies and/or your Facebook company reps. These groups know the most about what is changing at the social network. Nothing is going to change quickly and Facebook is not going to jeopardize its $40 billion revenue stream by driving advertisers away.
This disruption comes at a time when many pharma marketers are just learning about the power of Facebook. Don’t panic, change comes fast in social, but there is always a path forward.