Shame on Facebook. The Cambridge Analytica scandal has exposed the social network’s egregious misstep. Here at Forrester, we are furiously fielding inquiries about what this failure to protect user data means. Most questions are immediate and tactical in nature. These questions are certainly pressing so let’s address them. But then let’s discuss the bigger questions that companies should also be asking.

In the short-term: Industry experts prophesizing Facebook’s impending doom are overreacting.

Q: Will users #deleteFacebook en masse?
A: No, users won’t mass exodus.

  • Users change behaviors really slowly. Forrester’s ConsumerVoices research shows that users are acutely aware of Facebook’s recent hacking and data exposure problems, yet most respondents said their usage did not change as a result or, if it did, was not a result of recent failings (example: “My usage has slowed down but I have been trending that way before the [data] news came out.”).
  • People have learned to be skeptical of what they see online. In today’s world of over-information and “fake news,” people know to be wary of what they see on the internet. Our same ConsumerVoices study revealed that most don’t trust what they see on any social media platform. “I think I always take what I see with a grain of salt. I cannot imagine taking what I see as the truth on any site.”
  • For developing countries, Facebook Free Basics is a portal to the internet. People relying on Facebook to access anything on the internet will have a hard time disconnecting from Facebook – literally. In 2017, 63 countries used Facebook Free Basics. For these people, the succor of access trumps privacy and manipulation concerns.

Q: Will brands abandon Facebook because they think their advertising will be affected?
A: Advertisers won’t mass exodus either.

In the long-term: We aren’t saying it’s business as usual.
Facebook will have to clamp down on user data privacy — and with new GDPR parameters. At the same time, brands must ask tough questions of their marketing strategy, their vision, and technology’s role in the consumer-brand relationship.

Q: Is Facebook the right place for my brand?
A: Reassess your consumers and align your brand.

Q: What does this data exposure mean for my brand beyond Facebook?
A: This is not a Facebook problem; this is a privacy problem impacting all companies.

  • Remember that Facebook is one of many data breaches that consumers have endured. Yahoo. Equifax. Target. The net effect is that consumers are waking to the need to discern privacy protection capabilities in the brands they prefer. Build your own privacy program as a competitive differentiator and evaluate your partner set for GDPR compliance.
  • Don’t let your company’s governance fail you. Colleague Jim Nail shared, “Facebook failed to control its technology with a governance mechanism that reconciled its philosophy that users control their privacy and data with its mission to ‘make the world more open and connected.’ The fact that a third-party app was able to collect data from people not opting into it is a significant failure of governance.”

What it means:
Marketers have long struggled with technology, preferring the art to the science. But science is increasingly a part of marketers’ reality and that technology is starting to exceed humans’ ability to control it. Microsoft’s AI chatbot, Tay, spouted racist propaganda after ingesting Twitter data. This is new territory for brands. But when a company as powerful as Facebook can’t understand or predict the dark side of technology, what are marketers to do? Ask more questions. We still need philosophers who can help marketers. The Facebook failure is a sign from the future that to reap the wonders of technology, we still need to hire thinkers who can analyze the implications of our technology decisions today. Philosophy majors (and their parents) rejoice.

If you’re attending our Consumer Marketing Forum, join me and Brigitte Majewski in a discussion on this topic on Thursday, April 5th at 1:15pm EST. Many thanks to Brigitte for co-authoring this blog post. And, thank you to Melissa Parrish, Jim Nail, Fatemeh Khatibloo, Susan Bidel, and Chris Collins for inspiration and contribution.