In his inimitable, pugnacious style, maverick billionaire Elon Musk recently took down the Facebook pages of both SpaceX and Tesla, seemingly in response to an arbitrary tweet that challenged him to ‘be the man’. Aside from the fact that teams and/or individuals looking after these pages were left red-faced, this incident has also sparked a lively debate about whether brands should also hitch their wagons to the #DeleteFacebook movement.
The online exodus from Facebook has gained quite a bit of steam in the past week, and the company’s shareholders seem to be the first in the line of fire. It was recently reported that the social behemoth recently lost close to $60 billion in market capitalization amidst concerns engendered by the (pseudo) data breach brought to light by whistle-blowers at Cambridge Analytica. Claims of this startling reveal being the “light bulb” moment for users have been circling digital corridors ever since.
A recent issue of The Economist referred to data as the new oil; well, if data is the new oil, insight-mining (more popularly known as data mining in tech-circles) is the digital equivalent of running an oil refinery.
Tesla and SpaceX aren’t the first (or the most important, for that matter) brands to (however whimsically) distance themselves from Facebook. Advertisers Mozilla and Commerzbank have also opted to suspend advertisements on the platform. This holier-than-thou posturing might (and should) come across as hypocritical; it is, after all, the data thirst of these brands that lines Facebook’s pockets. It is these consumer brands and the advertisers that, on any other day, would have paid a fortune for psychographic profiling services peddled by firms like Cambridge Analytica. Why the skittish response? Why now? “I think those large companies are very nervous to be associated with a medium where the data is being abused, particularly in a political context.” said David Kershaw, M&C Saatchi’s founding director in an interview to the BBC.
It is advertising dollars that can eventually compel Facebook to tweak its data protection policy; not user-run hashtag campaigns on Twitter. Does that mean that mainstream consumer brands can just stick their heads in the sand while this storm ebbs away? Or should they make an attempt to be sensitive to users’ concerns and take a stand by biting the hand that has (quite literally) fed them (data and insights) through the last decade? What about digital-centric firms (and brands) that have been able to craft their identities owing solely to social (and primarily, Facebook) media? Should they be more concerned?
Let’s consider Scenario A. Let’s say that Brand X chooses to take the Ostrich route. If #DeleteFacebook then snowballs into a much bigger debacle, X’s managers would be collecting their pink slips pretty soon. If, on the other hand, the storm tides over, they would (in all likelihood) be commended for their prescience. Let us now analyze at Scenario B. Vice-versa for Brand Y which opts for the paradigmatic route, and risks (potentially) losing out on a chock full of user-generated content/information (if Zuck & Co. manage to douse the fire in time).
Almost all major brands that consumers interact and engage within 2018 have spent many a year burnishing their Facebook strategies - optimizing ad spends and striving to draw users to their pages. Logging off their accounts and suspending their pages might also seem like an utter waste of resources that have consistently been ploughed into their Facebook denominated assets over the years. The sunk cost estimates would be enough to cause sleepless nights for management professionals across the globe.
Migrating away from a platform also entails being able to leverage alternate platforms and/or businesses to perform the same functions, not to mention the sacrosanct desideratum of doing so at comparable costs. Quite a few modern-day consumer brands share a proclivity to build multiple digital nests, but I’d not be exaggerating if I say that most would be left hanging high and dry, with little sense of what is to come next.
Numbers tell a similar (but substantially more intimidating) story. Trading in access to a pool of 1.2 billion active users for access to a few hundred million (on platforms like Instagram or Twitter) doesn’t make much business sense. Even if Facebook were to bleed to the extent of a million users a day, the statistics would still work in its favour, at least on paper. Not to mention that first-time internet users in the developing world are much more likely to get their taste of the Internet glory through Facebook, not through Twitter or Instagram.
Giving Facebook the carrot or the stick remains a choice that needs more scrutiny than ever, but it looks like Zuck & Co. are about to get away with another ‘stern warning’. What brands need to ensure is that these warnings don’t turn into jeremiads.
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About the Author:
Abhyudaya Ranglani (Public Relations Cell, Class of 2018)