Lead Generation Lessons From the Facebook Data Scandal

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Facebook has been in hot water recently as a result of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, where it was revealed that millions of Facebook users had their personal data shared without their knowledge or consent because of an app that one of their Facebook friends had accessed.

The Facebook data scandal and the company’s response, along with allegations that Facebook was utilized by Russian trolls, “fake news” peddlers, spambots, and other bad actors to influence the 2016 election, has caused many people—and some big advertisers—to reevaluate their relationship with the social media company.

Many advertisers are also starting to wonder how much of their lead generation budget they want to spend with Facebook or other social media ads; after all, if people are starting to wonder whether social media is truly “time well spent,” it might be time for businesses to look at some other options for finding new business leads.

Facebook has also been criticized by brands and publishers for its various changes to the platform’s algorithm, which have reduced companies’ “organic reach” to be able to talk directly to their own audiences, while encouraging companies to spend more money on ads instead.

So is Facebook still a good place for advertisers to spend money? Or should you change your strategy? The answers are complicated, and the right answer may be different for different companies. In general, here are a few key thoughts and updated lead generation strategies to keep in mind in the aftermath of the Facebook data scandal.

Stay focused on building and maintaining trust

Facebook’s data scandal is cutting to the heart of the company’s business because it’s making people question whether they really trust Facebook to handle their data properly. Is Facebook able and willing to keep people’s data safe, or will it inadvertently allow your data to be accessed by hackers and trolls? Are people going to change their behavior and spend less time on Facebook (and share less personal information on Facebook) which will ultimately make Facebook less valuable for advertisers?

The second question is fascinating because on the one hand people really like Facebook and it’s hard to quit! Lots of people derive great value from being on Facebook, and it’s a way to connect with friends and family and participate in public life. But if Facebook starts to be perceived as an untrustworthy “bad guy” company, the platform might become less popular, and advertisers might suddenly find that Facebook ads are not as good of an investment as they used to be.

In the same way, your business needs to make sure that all of your lead generation is about building trust, not undermining trust. If you collect data from your customers or prospective customers, whether it’s an email address or phone number or other sensitive information obtained via Facebook ads, make sure you communicate openly about how customer data is used, how it is protected, and how long it is stored.

And aside from data collection issues—even when you’re doing traditional outbound lead generation, like sending direct mail or making cold calls—there’s a “right way” to do it so that you build trust: by making realistic promises, by asking well-informed questions, by contacting people who legitimately might want to hear from you (by doing your research ahead of time), and more.

Lead generation doesn’t have to be a “data scraping,” interruptive, random grab for attention; it should be more of a targeted approach where you’re ideally talking to people who want to hear from you.

Stay ahead of the algorithm (and adapt)

Facebook is making changes to its rules as a result of the data scandal. This could impact your business, even if you were doing everything right. Your business needs to constantly adapt to these changes in the algorithm and stay up to speed on the latest rule changes, whether it’s Facebook or another social media or online marketing platform.

This scandal is also a lesson to not invest too heavily in any one platform or marketing channel—i.e., don’t put all your eggs in one basket. For example, if you were putting all your marketing efforts into SEO and Google search results, but then Google’s algorithm changed in a way that knocked your website out of the top rankings for your targeted keywords, that could be disastrous for your business.

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Build a good mix of inbound and outbound lead generation

Another big lesson from the Facebook data scandal is you shouldn’t rely too much on any one platform or any one channel of lead generation. Even if Facebook had been working really well for your business so far, this data scandal and its aftermath could lead to changes that hurt your business for reasons beyond your control.

So what should you do instead? Diversify your “portfolio” of lead generation! Just like you wouldn’t want to put your entire retirement savings in the stock of one company, you also shouldn’t bet the future of your business on any one lead generation tactic or channel.

Build up a good mix of lead generation tactics: inbound (Google ads, Facebook/social media ads, SEO) and outbound (cold calling, email, direct mail, and more). The better mix of lead generation tactics you have, the more likely you will stay resilient and adaptable if your performance on any one of those channels takes a hit.

Reconsider the meaning of “owned media” vs. paid media

Businesses have spent billions of dollars on Facebook: building up an audience of “likes” for their business page, and then spending on ads to put sponsored posts and targeted ads in front of that audience. But if Facebook makes drastic changes to its algorithm, or if Facebook starts to lose audience if people get disenchanted with its data privacy practices, this could mean that Facebook ads may no longer be such a great deal for businesses.

This scandal is a reminder that you shouldn’t bet everything on Facebook’s “paid media” platform. You don’t really “own” your own Facebook audience, and you shouldn’t want your whole online presence to be tied up with Facebook. Instead, consider putting more resources into your own website, blog articles, podcasts, YouTube videos, or something that you truly “own.”

Time will tell if the fallout from the Facebook data scandal leads to lasting changes in the online landscape; the company is massively popular, staggeringly wealthy and powerful, and is already working to learn from its mistakes. However, this whole situation is a great example of why businesses need to stay adaptable and diversified with their lead generation activities.

Don’t bet everything on Facebook (or any single channel or platform). Don’t get complacent. Even if you’re getting good results today from a lead generation platform, the whole algorithm could change drastically in a way that hurts your business.

And most of all, stay focused on building trust and growing your business the right way: with honesty, authenticity, and good relationships.

RELATED: How to Generate Leads With Your B2B Website

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