The Cambridge Analytica scandal may be a watershed moment for Facebook. The leaking of the personal data of 50 million Facebook users to a researcher at Cambridge Analytica has rocked the social media world, sending Facebook stocks in a downward spiral despite profuse apologies and promises by Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and president. It’s also rocked the political world, leaving citizens and pundits musing about the scandal’s impact on the 2016 presidential election.
Marketers are also considering its impact. In case you’ve been sequestered under a rock for the past few weeks and aren’t sure what the scandal is all about, we’ll give a basic overview of what went down, along with some musings of our own on the scandal’s impact on B2B marketing moving forward.
What is the Cambridge Analytica and Facebook Scandal?
There’s been some confusion about the link between Cambridge Analytica, Facebook and the Trump campaign and, don’t forget, the Russians are somehow intertwined in all this, too. Let’s try and make it simple.
To start, London-based Cambridge Analytica is a consulting firm for political campaigns, including President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Former senior advisor to Trump, Steve Bannon, was vice president of the consulting firm at the time and introduced the two sides in 2016.
A Russian American researcher named Aleksandr Kogan worked at the University of Cambridge and built a Facebook quiz app called “thisisyourdigitallife” that used Facebook's login feature. It was a personality test, of sorts. Approximately 270,000 Facebook users took the quiz which not only collected data from those who used the app, but mined data from their Facebook friends without knowing, too (making up the aforementioned 50 million number).
While Facebook’s policy prohibited the selling of data collected with this method, there were no stopgap measures put in place to prevent it and Cambridge Analytica sold the data to the Trump campaign anyway.
How May the Scandal Impact B2B Marketing Efforts?
It’s unknown how much the data from Cambridge Analytica helped the Trump campaign, if at all. The firm’s reputation was in question prior to any inkling of this present-day scandal. The bigger question for many marketers is whether Facebook can recover from its tarnished reputation. Will users lose trust and choose to abandon the most powerful social media platform on the planet?
While Facebook stock has dropped, there’s not much indication that typical use of the platform has plummeted with it. Despite the trending hashtag #DeleteFacebook being mentioned 40,398 times in a single day coupled with a smattering of celebrity break-ups with the platform, it appears most other users aren’t willing to actually go through with deleting their accounts. Mark Zuckerberg himself stated that he hasn’t seen a "meaningful number of people" deleting their Facebook accounts as a result of the scandal.
Many users are waiting things out to see if more revelations come to light. Account holders will likely be more cautious, however, when using apps inside the platform and be less willing to allow those apps to access their information, which is generally a good practice anyway.
B2B marketers wishing to reach targets via sponsored posts and page promotions likely won’t see a significant impact either. Advertisers haven’t seemed to ostracize Facebook yet and, like users, many are taking a wait-and-see approach and conducting business as usual. In other words, it’s still important to leverage social media as part of a B2B marketing strategy until further notice.
Facebook is a behemoth as far as social media platforms go and will survive. That’s my opinion, at least. Even though the scandal is unsettling for many, the heightened data protection measures that Facebook will inevitably implement as a result will be good for the company, its users and advertisers in the long run.
This public embarrassment goes to show you that while transparency is a valued trait among Facebook friends, it’s definitely worthy of scorn when it comes to exposed data outside those connections.