Every dollar you spend on advertising is a wasted dollar unless you make a return from it. We know that ‘speculate to accumulate’ is the way of the world when it comes to advertising and promotions, but that doesn’t mean you should spend recklessly. For a long time, Facebook has been seen as a necessary tool when it comes to advertising your brand or business online. The way that you can use Facebook’s advertising platform to tailor your adverts and who they appear to makes it way more advanced than almost any other method, and the company’s prices have always been seen as reasonable, too. Just because something was a good idea once, though, doesn’t mean it always will be. Has Facebook’s time as an essential advertising tool come and gone?
We ask this because the company has found itself attracting the wrong kind of press yet again in recent days. This time, it’s all to do with the forthcoming US Presidential Election. In January, the company promised to launch its new independent ‘oversight board’ ahead of the election – a body charged with handling moderation policy for the sprawling social media network. Moderation has long been a bone of contention on Facebook, with political voices on all sides of the debate claiming they’ve been unfairly censored or had posts removed wrongly in the past. The oversight board was supposed to put an end to this. There’s only one problem with that – the creation of the board has taken longer than expected, and it now won’t launch until October. Critics fear that this will make it too late to detect and counteract ‘fake news’ in the run-up to the election – and they’re not happy.
While Facebook insists that the delays are down to technical systems and finding the right combination of people to sit on the board, critics are skeptical. They point out that whenever Facebook wants to do something quickly, it tends to get done. When the company noticed that the global market for online slots had reached tens of billions of dollars per year, it was quick to launch its own equivalent of an on-site online slots website. When TikTok started to become popular, it barely took Facebook a month to launch Lasso as an alternative to TikTok, and then the ‘Reels’ feature for Instagram to effectively clone it. In the case of both the TikTok clone and the online slots page, there were obvious motives for Facebook to take fast action. Online slots make money, and a loss of users to TikTok could potentially cost money. Both moves were designed to keep Facebook’s profit margins healthy.
The opposite incentive exists with the oversight board. If they’re as good at their job as they’re supposed to be, they’ll cost Facebook money. Quite aside from the fact that the company has earmarked $130m to fund the supposedly-independent board, the board’s objective is to remove harmful adverts and posts. An advertiser who has had a post removed us likely to be unhappy with Facebook and may not spend money with them again. A poster who’s had a post removed may quit the social network, too. The net result for the company is lost advertising revenue and lost users. A cynic would suggest that there’s no benefit to the group’s existence from a Facebook point of view, and that may be the real reason for the delay. Facebook strongly denies any such accusation, but the accusation is there to be made nonetheless.
In the absence of solid action from Facebook, a collection of companies and individuals has announced they’ve formed their own ‘real Facebook oversight board,’ and will begin reporting perceived breaches of the site’s advertising and content policies as loudly as possible effective immediately. Worryingly for Facebook, the people involved in this new board are the same people who ran the #StopHateForProfit campaign that saw celebrities like Kim Kardashian quit the site, and several prominent advertisers start a prolonged boycott. Former prominent Facebook investor Roger McNamee is involved, and so is journalist Carole Cadwalladr, who’s notable for breaking the Cambridge Analytica scandal story. Taken together, this is a wealthy and influential collection of entities who have the means and platform to be heard if they wish to, and they’re likely to be a constant headache for Mark Zuckerberg for the next several months.
That leads us back to the question we asked at the start of this article. If advertisers are abandoning or boycotting Facebook and prominent celebrities are either permanently or temporarily moving away from the site too, is it still a good idea to advertise your business there? After everything we’ve said, it might surprise you to hear that our honest opinion is that unless you don’t want to work with the company for ethical reasons, the answer is still ‘yes.’ It might be under heavy fire, and it might be taking criticism from every direction at the moment, but the fact remains that Facebook is still the largest and most-used social media network in the world, and no other advertising platform comes close when it comes to reach or possibility. Corporations and wealthy individuals might be backing away from the site, but billions of regular people still use it every day, and it’s more likely that your potential customers are made up of regular people as opposed to celebrities.
There might come a day when Facebook is no longer fit for purpose. It’s been around for fourteen years now, and that’s an eternity in internet terms. One day another social media company might appear. One day the company might be forced to break itself up on the grounds of antitrust or anti-competition laws. Zuckerberg might decide that he’s made enough money and he’s bored of the criticism, and shut up shop. Nobody knows what’s around the corner. For now, though, your best marketing strategy is to hold your nose and carry on giving Facebook money. It’s still a great place to advertise if you can use the targeting functionality correctly, and it’s still the place you’re most likely to be seen and heard. Should that change, we’ll try to be the first to let you know.