What the recent Facebook controversy teaches us about non-profit marketing and communications

publication date: May 8, 2018
author/source: Clare McDowall Levy

By now, you are likely very familiar with the current Cambridge Analytica/data privacy scandal surrounding Facebook. If you are not, go here and catch up, as this news will have an effect on your non-profit in one way or another.

Immediately following the breaking news of the data breach, a movement launched called #DeleteFacebook, urging Facebook users to shut down their profiles and leave the platform for good. Top “influencers” such as Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple and comedians Will Ferrell and Jim Carrey have also gone (at the time of writing this article). Users were outraged to “discover” that Facebook profits from using their activities, likes, comments and page follows to segment them into groups and make this data available to advertisers. Add into that the idea that people didn’t just use this data for advertising but (possibly) also for meddling in the democratic process…. Many people have been left with a bad taste in their mouth and are looking hard at what data they offer up online.

In defense of Facebook. Facebook has argued, and I agree with them to a degree, that they have been quite clear with users about what information they gather from users activities, and what they do with it. Being outraged that Facebook uses your activities to identify what ads to show to you while on Facebook means that you were not paying attention when you clicked I AGREE when signing up to join the platform, nor did you take the time to understand the different layers of privacy that Facebook offers. Every time you use Facebook to sign into airport wifi, every time you take a “quiz” that requests your “permission to post” and doesn’t give you your results until you give that permission to them, you are opening the door to your data, and doing so willingly. Some people believe that it is a fair exchange, and others do not.

Facebook points out that you are always in control of this. And you are. Which is where many people’s frustration comes in, people feel embarrassed alongside their outrage, which can often lead to more extreme actions, hence the birth of the #DeleteFacebook movement.

How to protect your organization. If you have a robust digital marketing and communications plan in place, then these recent revelations probably won't have a significant impact on your strategies. If, however, your organization is still struggling to be strategic with digital marketing and communications, is operating without a strategy, or hasn’t updated your strategy in 2-3 years, then you will need to look at making some changes, not just because of this scandal, but because Facebook has changed quite dramatically in the last year or so, and when you take a closer look, you will find reach and engagement has plummeted.

Never put all your eggs in one digital basket (platform). A robust digital strategy should never rely on just one platform, especially if it is a platform that you do not truly own. In the words of Scott Stratten of Unmarketing, “If you build your house on rented land, sooner or later, the landlord will want you to pay.” Given the public focus around data privacy and social media, now is the time to take an audit of your digital platforms and ensure that you are not too reliant on a tool that you do not own.

If ‘X’ social media channel went away tomorrow (or started charging for use) what alternatives would you have to reach your ‘friends’? If the Facebook scandal can teach us anything, it is that social media platforms are not owned by us, the users. They are businesses, and businesses can fail, they can change, they can shut down, and they can be forced to shut down. We do not have a right to Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram, or . Protect your organization by making sure that you are not over-dependent on one social platform, especially one that you do not own. Questions to ask:

1 - Which social media platforms are we using?

  • What percentage of our time/resources are allocated to each platform?
  • Is our demographic audience on this platform?

2 - How successful is each platform in achieving our goals?

  • % click through to website
  • % social engagement
  • Other goals we have in our strategy

3 - Do we have a strategy to convert social media fans to email addresses?

  • If Facebook/Twitter/Instagram went away tomorrow, how would you communicate with those people?
  • What tactics/plans do we have to move people from social media to email? ○
    • None - get a plan in place ASAP 
    • Have a plan - how consistent are your rates? Increasing, staying steady, or declining?

4 - Do we need to improve our email activities?

  • Email is a relationship that you own - this channel is extra important to your organization and should have as much priority as Facebook in your strategic thinking. 
  • Is your list segmented? 
  • Are you using data to make decisions? 
  • Are your email templates responsive? 
  • Is your content ‘audience first’?

5 - Is our website working for us? 

  • Is it engaging, do people stick around and read the content?
  • What pages are the most visited?
  • How long do people spend on our website, and what are they doing while they are there?
  • How can we improve the engagement on our site? 
  • Are we strategic about the User Experience (UX)? 
  • Is our website delivering on our goals - email sign up, donations, advocacy, social sharing etc.?

Moving forward, make sure that you give as much attention to the channels that you own (email and website) as you do the ‘rented space’ of Facebook/Twitter/Instagram. Yes, these channels are not the same as social media, but they are channels where you own the relationships, and you have the control. There is no need to abandon Facebook as a channel for your organization, your responsibility at this moment in time is to ensure that you are not dependent on any social media channel without any strategy to create a closer relationship with ‘fans’ by moving them into your email (and eventually donor) funnels.

Clare McDowall Levy founded Socially Good in 2011, and in 2013 it became a full time endeavour and she's been providing digital communications, fundraising, and marketing strategy and support to a range of clients. She founded a conference, she's spoken at numerous other conferences and events, she's been on the AFP Toronto marketing and communications committee, She offers marketing and communications strategy, available to train you and your staff, teaching online via webinars with partners like NTEN, presenting at conferences, working in a recruitment capacity with CrawfordConnect, and always looking for opportunities to advance the non-profit sector, whatever that looks like, so that they can serve their constituents better and do more good in the world. Learning to code. Exploring how technology can help us tell better stories.

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