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The Cambridge Analytica scandal has highlighted a major flaw with how we use Facebook for marketing purposes. I recently downloaded my data file and although I was surprised by some of the information it contained, such as my previous relationships, I didn’t find it particularly shocking.

Many of my fellow marketers felt similar – after all, Facebook makes its money through advertising. Surely you can’t be surprised by finding out the organization collects relevant information?

As evidenced by those planning to use Facebook less, or even stop using it altogether, we were wrong. Clearly, the Cambridge Analytica scandal has deeply affected the social network’s customers. Instead of accepting how their data is being used, they’re turning against the platform.

As a result, the issue could have huge ramifications for how we work with Facebook in the future. As well as changing how we identify and target customers, we could be dealing with a new data-savvy audience, that values privacy over everything else.

Is this the end of targeted advertising?

Unlike our predecessors, we have access to a vast amount of data. In minutes, we can identify a wide range of statistics about our customers and use this to better structure our campaigns. This data-led approach forms the backbone of modern marketing, but by doing this, we forgot about the needs of the consumer.

We used this data largely assuming the subject would be fine with it and probably wouldn’t find out anyway.

In the words of Dr Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park:

“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

In March, Reuters published a survey which detailed how individuals felt about targeted advertising. Polling more than 2,300 individuals, only 9% wanted more of it. The majority wanted to see less of targeted advertising in the future.

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Perhaps indicating a rejection of targeted advertising, numerous Facebook users have now learned their stored interests help inform these, and have started deleting them. Although this is enough to worry many marketers, it gets worse: now these individuals realize that ads they’ve clicked on will be tracked and noted, they could be less likely to do so.

In response to the Cambridge Analytica fallout, Facebook has taken steps to address their customers’ privacy concerns, among them, shutting down their Partner Categories tool. The process gave advertisers more access to valuable consumer data, supplementing Facebook’s insights with third party information.

For marketers, that sounds like an amazing tool, providing more insight into our customers. Yet, as this scandal has revealed, it’s not something they appreciated or wanted.

Is Facebook still worth our time?

Despite the #Deletefacebook movement, Facebook will not disappear. Simply put, it is ‘too big to fail’. Deleting the platform just isn’t an option for many users – not to mention the numerous businesses which use the network to sell products.

But although cynics will claim the scandal will blow over, users will forget, and then it will be business as usual, we can’t go back.

First, we’re dealing with a new data-savvy breed of customer. These people have realized the consequences of putting so much information about themselves online, and will subsequently make themselves harder to target. As a result, advertising on Facebook will remain a viable option, but in the long run might not be as effective as it used to be.

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Second, we can use Facebook to foster customer trust by adhering to that (now largely forgotten) lesson of marketing: “Give the public what they want”.

Back to basics: Give the public what they want

The Cambridge Analytica scandal has highlighted a major flaw in marketing – we stopped treating customers as humans and instead regarded them as statistics.  

It’s now clear that customers want privacy. Consequently, we should make that the cornerstone of our campaigns.

For example, instead of getting someone to adhere to your complicated terms of service, make it clear what you’re going to do with their information. Foster discussions with your customers about what advertising they would like to see so they aren’t surprised by the outcome.

At the very least, those individuals who want targeted advertising will be satisfied, and those who value privacy will regard you as more trustworthy.

At the end of the day, marketing should be about listening to your customers. It’s just something that many have forgotten how to do.



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