Data breaches, data mining, election tampering, Brexit, Trump, Russia. A head-spinning mix that has prompted lots of my friends in the real world (ie those who don’t work in marcoms) to delete their social media accounts over the past few weeks. This is bad news. Not just because I will be deprived of photos of their darling children/cats/dogs; it is bad news for us as marketers.
I am not at all condoning the whole Facebook/Cambridge Analytica debacle – clearly something very wrong happened there, which underlines the need for proper regulation of the digital platforms.
I also accept that the actions of a few of my friends do not spell the collapse of Facebook. But we would be foolish if we were not concerned about the adverse impact of dwindling consumer trust in Facebook and other social media platforms.
We need people to be on social media – they are our audiences. And our audience is leaving without understanding the full impact of their departure. I think the root of the problem is the fact no one has explained the economics of the internet.
There is now a pretty much universal expectation that information on the internet should be free, that search engines should be free, that social media platforms should be free. From a user perspective it makes complete sense – everything for nothing; it is a fantastic deal. But no one asks the question: how does it all happen? Who pays the engineers, journalists, photographers, editors, assistants – everyone who is involved in making it all happen?
I would be surprised if it occurs to many that it is almost all paid for by advertising. In fact I would bet that most people think advertising is ‘free money’ for publishers, platforms and providers.
We, that is the aforesaid publishers, platforms and providers, as well as advertisers, have shied away of explaining that it is advertising that keeps the whole system afloat. And we never tell them that in order for us to target our ads effectively we need their data. We need to know who they are, what they are interested in and where they have been.
I have never really understood why we have failed to explain the value exchange: you give us your data, we give you the internet. I would hate to think it is because we are a little embarrassed about advertising. Is it possible that advertising is still regarded as a little grubby? Answers on a postcard please.
Whatever the reason, we have got ourselves into a bad place because now we are faced with growing consumer distrust in the online platforms and a real reluctance to share data. With the implementation of the GDPR just a few weeks away and a new ePrivacy directive being drafted at the EU (and yes it will affect us post-Brexit), we need to forge closer relationships with consumers; greater trust. And in my view we can only really build trust if we have greater levels of transparency.
So, we need to educate consumers about why their data is important and be completely clear about how it should be used and by whom. And do so in plain English. We could start with privacy statements, which are too often gobbledegook written by lawyers rather than an important piece of marketing collateral.
We need to explain to consumers how to share their own data (and not that of their friends, as in the Cambridge Analytica saga) safely with trusted organisations.
We need to press for robust regulation of the online platforms, so there is proper recourse if that trust is breached.
We need to explain why giving us access to their data is good for them: they get the internet for free and ads that are aimed at people like them.
We need to be clear that without that targeting they will get a load of ads which are in no way relevant to them (and therefore annoying), that ad campaigns will cost advertisers more and those costs will have to be picked up by someone – like as not, the consumer.
We need to be brave enough to reduce the volume of ads and make the ones we do put out better. And yes, I know that the primary objective of many digital campaigns is to drive click-throughs and shift product; but the sheer number of them is really annoying and that annoyance only rises when they are bad, so as well as advertising your product you are also effectively running a campaign for ad blockers and doing nothing to enhance your brand.
None of this is difficult (well, some might think the last one is – if you do I am happy to share my views, again, on what makes a great ad.) It will take commitment and some money, although not a huge amount. But the results would be worth it: the trust of our consumer. Now wouldn’t that be something?