Facebook’s 2019 F8 conference unveiled a number of privacy-oriented updates to its services this year. On the surface, these changes have the potential to drastically change the way users and marketers engage with Facebook.
While it may be easy to think that these changes won’t have a big impact on marketers in particular, it couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s no secret that Facebook has had a tumultuous year, and now, the many, consequential transitions and platform updates have the potential to make social marketing even more powerful.
Is Facebook in trouble?
While it may seem like Facebook is in the news all the time—often for negative reasons—it’s important to contextualize what’s going on in these instances. Facebook is under heavy scrutiny currently, the focus of political inspection and analysis across the globe.
There have been several sensationalized headlines about Facebook that drive clicks and readership lately, but in my opinion, many of the issues might be somewhat overstated. By nature of its size and reach, Facebook will be subject to close observation, but regardless of outcome, the company won’t really lose.
For instance, if Facebook is broken up into three separate companies, in many ways it becomes stronger. And, if Facebook should continue as-is, it has even more opportunity to grow and connect its different services. Under scrutiny? Yes. In trouble? Not to the point where I’m concerned.
In the last quarterly report, Facebook showed 8% year-over-year growth despite the negative headlines. That goes to show, outside of the media bubble of headlines and political discussion, a majority of users just want to keep doing what they’re doing. They want to keep sharing content, talking and connecting with people—unaffected by the very bubble-type conversations around them. Facebook continues to grow despite narratives to the contrary.
A shift to privacy
So far, privacy has been the overriding theme for Facebook this year. Is the end of social media or the end of Facebook for marketers nigh, as some headlines have sensationalized? Not in the least. The public side of Facebook isn’t going away. Instead, it’s taking the opportunity to add layers and nuances to user experiences.
Think of your day-to-day life: You exist in public and private spaces, at home and at work, with different groups of family, friends, acquaintances, peers, colleagues, etc. In the same way we have (somewhat) separate public and private spheres in our offline lives, it’s possible for us to have a more pronounced distinction of those arenas in our online lives. We need more separate online spaces where we can choose to be private and/or secluded, and decide who we’re online with and when, while still having the ability to be public. And, we need to be able to move from one space to another seamlessly.
Facebook is more than just Facebook
When you think of “Facebook,” it’s more than facebook.com, or the blue “f” app on your phone. Facebook encompasses Instagram, Messenger, WhatsApp, Groups and the VR division, Oculus. It’s a whole ecosystem. So, when Facebook talks about 2.4 billion monthly users, and you look at the whole ecosystem, there are 2.1 billion people using at least one of those apps every single day.
This shift to increased privacy has the potential to impact Messenger more than most of the other products in the ecosystem. Consumers will probably be encouraged to change their behavior with new tools and new applications. For example, users could be encouraged to use Messenger mail, where they can communicate one-on-one, one-to-many or control groups. Brands will to have to adapt to follow them and engage in these more personalized and unique environments.
Also look for a shift in Stories. They’re already a popular vehicle to share content, but look for additional features that will allow users to do more than just share video, photos and stories. Rather, Stories could start replicating a feed-type functionality in a private environment.
With the launch of its cryptocurrency, Libra, Facebook will not only make it incredibly easy for people to make instant payments of various sizes to each other, it will also likely disrupt more traditional means of e-commerce. Libra will allow users to make payments of any value, instantly.
And, this will affect more than shopping. You know when there’s an article or some content you want to access, but it’s behind a paywall and you abandon it because you don’t want to subscribe and/or pay a monthly fee? What if you could pay 10 cents to read it with no friction, no credit card to enter, no login? You could buy things 10 cents at a time, and buy them at scale.
Even more, think about Instagram—a destination for users not just to browse content, but to purchase goods.
Instagram is rolling out new products that allow brands to embed tags so that when users browse products, they can simply tap one and have the opportunity to buy it. With ease. It’s a powerful e-commerce experience when consumers don’t have the hassle of having to enter information and a credit card number, and instead just click to buy an item. It could blow the top off “impulse purchases.”
What this means for brands
One thing I hear from brands is a persistent concern that a more private social media environment will make it tougher to advertise. So, I share one of my personal beliefs about social; that the biggest opportunity has and will always be building one-on-one relationships at scale. This is a process I love, so broad changes and roadmaps to a more private user experience not only aligns with creating these individual connections, it helps facilitate the task.
Changes in privacy actually present an exciting opportunity to rethink how we advertise. I don’t consider this a bad or negative change. I think of it through the lens of a path to purchase. The public space as the very top of the funnel—the initial awareness level—and then moving to private, the consideration phase, and then on to conversion or purchase.
Moving into a private space doesn’t mean you’re literally having one-on-one conversations with people. There are many, many technologies we can develop and deploy to do it automatically, and in a meaningful way.
For example, Facebook Messenger allows brand representatives, community managers for example, to talk to individuals, or brands can develop a bot to can help people find what they need: information, a product, something to buy, an appointment, you name it. Bots can move them through a process seamlessly, all the way to completion and conversion. There’s so much potential here.
If you’re making business decisions regarding Facebook, make sure to dig deep with a critical eye. Don’t take every (or any) headline at face value, and consider the longer-term mission and potential of the Facebook ecosystem rather than fearing the worst. Facebook has done a tremendous job of keeping users over the years. If they’re willing to take a huge shift in how they do their business, they’re ultimately confident in how that impacts user health, and users on the platform. So, for a brand and for marketers, the more that users are engaged in a platform, the better the marketing opportunity in this new privacy-oriented landscape.