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What Does Living in a Post-Cambridge Analytica World Mean for Marketers?

facebook login screen displayed on a smartphone

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard about the drama that brought Mark Zuckerberg all the way up to Capitol Hill. But just in case you somehow missed it, the gist is this: Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm, stole private data from Facebook users to influence voters in the 2016 presidential election.

What’s more, it wasn’t just a few thousand users. It was over 50 million users (possibly way over). Just let that sink in for a second. Needless to say, people are not happy with Facebook.

Of course, this is also data that we use as marketers every day, to build audiences and campaigns in our paid social efforts. So…what does this data breach mean for marketers? Especially those of us who have found Facebook to be a particularly profitable channel?

Facebook's Changes

First things first, let’s dive into how Facebook is responding to all of this.

While we certainly haven’t experienced a complete 180 within the platform, Facebook has started to make some updates, now requiring advertisers to collect consent from users for audience-based campaigns.

But don’t be alarmed—audience modeling involving consent shouldn’t be considered a critical hurdle for marketers, especially if your organization has a savvy privacy policy in place that includes appropriate language around users’ information and how it will be used. If you don’t have this in place already, shame on you. Get on it immediately.

Fortunately for advertisers, Facebook isn’t bound to shift too much too soon. As Forbes puts it, “Facebook realizes how critical third-party advertising has been to its continued growth, and unless it is able to create new ways to monetize the platform, advertising will continue to be its bread and butter.”

A Short Term Memory, to Say the Least

Alright, so we know Facebook probably isn’t going to change too radically in the near future. But what about your users? Are they ditching Facebook? Are people less willing to give away personal information? Will this affect how we generate leads and build trust?

Other than the trending hashtag “#DeleteFacebook,” the answer is mostly “no.” Not much has changed—and most users haven’t jumped ship. So for now, even with the scandal bringing up some bad memories in the increasingly charged United States political climate, we’re going to go ahead and say that it seems safe to continue to advertise on social in general and Facebook in particular. After all, our own Facebook campaigns that have launched post-scandal haven’t indicated any need for alarm…so we say keep on keeping on.

Data Privacy and the Future

So if nothing is really happening on both the Facebook side and the user side, what’s this mean for marketers? Should we just ignore what’s happened and carry on?

In the United States, kind of.

The truth is, data privacy laws in the United States just aren’t as strict as those found in other parts of the world—namely, Europe. With the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into effect on May 25th, marketers who sell in these markets are scrambling to ensure they’re meeting all the demands of the new legislation. And while it’s definitely smartest to follow data-collection best practices no matter where you are or where your ads are served, US businesses can breathe a short sigh of relief—at least for the time being.

As one CNBC article puts it, “The US won’t have these same rules, so it will be up to companies to decide whether they want to employ the same rules in Europe and other places in the world.”

What We Do Now

From the Cambridge Analytica and Facebook scandal to new legislation to protect data privacy, one thing is clear—marketers should be taking a measured approach to how they access and collect information, and we should absolutely be paying close attention to new developments to come.

Our advice for the time being?

It’s simple—update your privacy policies, make some minor adjustments to your collection methods (namely, landing pages and checkout processes), and wait to see what unfolds.

As we recommended during last year’s Canadian Anti-Spam regulation hubbub, our best advice is to reach out to your legal counsel, have your updated policies linked on your website, and continue being good stewards of your customers’ information. Asking for permission and consent for sending marketing materials is part and parcel of what we all should be doing now—so long as we continue to present customers with privacy policies and only market to those who’ve agreed, we’ll all be in the clear.

dustin clark headshot

As the Digital Marketing Director for Element Three, Dustin works with the Element Three digital marketing department to determine the best combination of data analysis, marketing technology, and storytelling for driving our clients' bottom line. His background in journalism, digital communication, and ecommerce positions him as a unique voice in the cluttered digital marketing industry. When he's not writing about the forefront of digital marketing, you can find him jamming with a guitar or at home with his wife and two children.