Let’s say you’re a small business owner. You don’t have a big marketing budget, but you’ve got a great product—maybe the very best backscratcher on the market. So last year you scraped together a little cash, looked at your options, and spent what you had on Facebook ads.
And then everybody deleted Facebook.
Okay, not everybody—in February, Facebook was closing in on two billion users, so even if the Cambridge Analytica data leaks caused that user base to halve (which it won’t), you’ve still got a billion people on the platform.
But I get it. You’re a small business with a small budget, and you’re trying to be smart about it. So the question you’re asking—you and a lot of people—is this: Should you still be buying ads on Facebook?
Selling an Audience
After years and years of people writing about how Facebook sucks, why does it suddenly suck so bad it requires congressional intervention? Surely it’s not because they’ve been selling user data. That’s never been a secret. Facebook makes money using an updated model that served newspapers, television, and radio for years: They deliver an audience to advertisers.
And here’s where you, the owner of Backscratchers Incorporated, might feel a little anxious. If people are leaving Facebook, and they’re mad about how their data is used, what does that mean for your new ad campaign that targets the much-coveted itchy back demographic? If you buy ads on the platform now, don’t you risk alienating your audience?
In a word: No. Because Facebook’s real problem isn’t about advertising—it’s about politics. And that’s why people are so angry.
Out of Our Hands
Surprisingly, this blog is not going to be the final word in the ongoing debate about politics, money, and advertising. But I think it’s important to identify what’s happening right now, because that’s the best way for you—the small business owner—to know how to proceed through these miiiighty choppy waters.
The rawness of the emotion right now isn’t about advertising. It’s not even necessarily about data. Instead, I would suggest it’s about data being used in a way perceived as specifically adverse to the people it’s being collected from. In other words, if you believe Cambridge Analytica used your data to further causes you voted against, you’re left to draw one conclusion: Your participation in the platform has made you culpable in an outcome you opposed.
Certainly, unethical advertising exists. But most people tend to believe in their own ability to resist being influenced by what they see and hear. What may be most upsetting about the Cambridge Analytica scandal is the implication that it doesn’t really matter what you think—your information can be used against you, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.
To Buy or Not to Buy
But back to your dilemma. Given the current environment, should you still purchase ads on Facebook?
I’d argue yes. But I’d do so bearing three things in mind:
- You Should Be Serving Your Audience
Part of the power of Facebook ads lies in their ability to find lookalike audiences—groups of people who don’t know about your product yet, but are similar to your existing audience. But that similarity isn’t necessarily enough. As you prepare to launch your next campaign, think through the problems you help your current customers solve, and how you’ll be helping new ones.
- Don’t Do Anything You Wouldn’t Want to See in Print
If your social media advertising practices were made public, would you be embarrassed? Would your customers be upset? For the most part it’s unlikely, but it’s always worth bearing in mind that anything can be leaked. Today it might be your customers’ data, but tomorrow it may be what you did—or didn’t—do with it.
- Don’t Count on a Single Platform
One day, Facebook will be replaced. I don’t know when, and I don’t know how, but it will happen, just as it has happened with those platforms that came before. Yes, you should advertise on Facebook—but also probably on Twitter, and LinkedIn, and definitely through some solid email marketing. It’s old wisdom, but that thing about your eggs and one basket? It still holds true.
And of course, if you’d really like to take your digital strategy to the next level, there’s a world of opportunity beyond Facebook—and we’d sure be glad to show it to you.