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How serious is the threat to marketing and insight if social media companies remain unregulated?

The world of social media is facing upheavals following fake news allegations and illegal sharing of data.  Currently social media companies largely self-regulate, which could lead to critical consequences around loss of trust for insight and marketing functions. Find out what the House of Commons Debating Group concluded at their recent debate: “Social Media can’t be trusted with self-regulation”.  It was a lively discussion!

Facebook was flooded with fake accounts during the US Presidential Election, which could well have impacted on the outcome. Their existence was initially denied, but subsequently great plaudits were made about them being taken down.  The Cambridge Analytica debacle was another example of where Facebook indulged in ‘anti-consumer behaviour’ for their own gain.

With these high profile fiascos fresh in our memories, the debate challenged why it has taken so long to wake up to the need for greater transparency.  In essence the behaviour of the social media companies has massive implications for consumer trust.   I believe there are two issues at stake – trust in the social media companies themselves and the trust consequences.

The dilemma for insight and marketing

The latter is crucial for customer insight and marketing functions.  If customers don’t trust social media companies, they don’t share their data.  If they don’t share their data then it is nigh on impossible to truly personalise advertising and promotions shared with them. The pool of willing ‘punters’ declines.  In short a big blow to the new opportunities the social media world has facilitated and a broken relationship between customers and social media.

Keith Weed of Unilever defined this as ‘the year of Techlash or the year of Trust.’  Social media brands need to behave more ethically, and we haven’t even touched on the issues of cyber bullying and the impact of social media on the young.

Social media companies take action

The social media companies have not been resting on their laurels however.  Twitter has taken down 6% of its accounts this first quarter.  Google has successfully developed AI to flag and identify hate content.

In our new digital world customers are also self-regulators.  Social Media after all is a channel of choice, and competition in itself works as a natural regulator of choice.  Societal behaviour also eventually dictates behavioural change as we have seen with drink driving laws. But is this enough?  And importantly is it quick enough?

It’s not enough!

There are signs consumers have had enough.  The Edelman Trust Barometer carried out towards the end of last year showed that 34% of respondents did not see social media as a force for good.  Facebook is losing accounts in droves.  I recently heard some millennials in research expressing concerns around the power of technology and whether their phones are listening to them!

In a room of many learned marketing and media professionals at this debate, very few supported self-regulation.  Even the speakers against the debate motion confessed to being able to see both sides of the argument.

It’s clear that regulation has to step in.  It’s not just about policing but instilling confidence in consumers to trust social media.  This will facilitate the rebuilding of the relationship between the two parties.  In turn this will allow insight and marketing professionals to get on with their job and consumers to benefit from that.  Ultimately the new social media relationships should be positive and full of opportunities for both sides.

Our thanks to the speakers Hugo Rifkind, The Times, Jo Causon, CEO, Institute for Customer Service, Stephen Woodford, CEO, Advertising Association and Andrew Mann, Ex-Vice President Insight and CRM, Asda whose arguments for and against the motion inspired this article.