What the Cambridge Analytica furore means for Facebook marketing

  • Unless you’ve been living in a cave this week, you can’t have missed the furore surrounding Facebook and a previously little known business in Cambridge.

    Having been impressed by a Facebook app called myPersonality, developed by Cambridge University academics, a political marketing company called Cambridge Analytica approached the team there for help with its ads targeting campaign, only to be rebuffed. One of the academics took a more commercial view and developed a similar Facebook app which Analytica paid for people to take.

    The resulting data was scraped for details on users’ identities, their friend networks, and their likes – activities which were made possible by data which was previously public by default, but which is now private.

    By gathering the data of hundreds of thousands of Facebook users and harvesting their friends’ profiles, the data could be extrapolated and used to target millions of people with digital adverts.

    The 2016 US presidential election

    The process ultimately ended with Cambridge Analytica being hired for Trump’s 2016 election campaign to target key swing states.

    Did the Cambridge Analytica targeting help sway the election? Probably not half as well as they claim, or as reported in the media, but it’s embarrassing for Facebook. Although its T&Cs say it will audit third parties with access to data to ensure they’re aware of what developers are doing with it, it’s well documented that, once data left the Facebook servers, they did little to analyse its ultimate use downstream.

    Facebook only started to get twitchy once it realised that app developers were potentially building huge troves of data analytics and social graphs.

    Could it happen again? Data breaches are a growing part of our technology, and nothing will ever be 100% secure, but Facebook’s data protection rules were tightened up well before the Cambridge Analytica story broke – and they are likely to be tightened again. Facebook won’t want a repeat of the negative publicity that currently surrounds it.

    What does this mean for future audience building on Facebook?

    As a business owner or marketing professional, you may now be concerned about whether you should still be trying to build audiences for targeted Facebook campaigns.

    Cambridge Analytica started in the right place – it created an engaging piece of content to build an audience from the people that completed it.

    Where Analytica fell down was going well beyond their level of permission for use of the data. Facebook routinely allows researchers to access the data for academic reasons, but prohibits the data to be sold to ad networks, data brokers or to be used for political purposes.

    If you have similar intentions, you are in a bad place (please don’t contact us), but the chances are you are running a legitimate business that wants nothing more than to put its message in front of a well targeted audience.

    In this case, you absolutely should think about creating content that will be of interest to your customers and prospects. You can use Facebook’s targeting tools to put it in front of a wide relevant audience and then allow Facebook’s admissible algorithms to build and refine that audience based upon the engagement it sees.

    Some commentators have lobbied for people to be shutting down their Facebook accounts and there might be some increased savviness about privacy settings, which could limit the size of retargeting audiences in future, but the reality is, the overall impact will be minimal. Facebook marketing will remain an effective arrow in the marketing quiver for many years to come.

    As long as you process the data in the manner permitted, you should be counting the leads, not the legal cost.

    For guidance on how to build a Facebook marketing campaign, please contact us.

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