Facebook Stumbles, But Doesn’t Fall
As Facebook has become increasingly embedded in the lives of millions around the world, its importance has also grown for nonprofit organizations as a vital channel for engaging with existing and potentially new supporters and donors. A key component has been Facebook’s audience addressability, allowing organizations to reach the right people directly, when and where they are most active and engaged. This is “people-based marketing,” a term that Facebook coined.
This foundation was slightly rocked in recent weeks, when the Cambridge Analytica scandal forced Facebook, its users and legislators to take a long look at how a service that is an integral part of our daily lives—and whose business model is built upon its user’s data—can coexist with the public’s need for privacy and transparency.
As fundraisers, many of us have dealt with this challenge for decades. How do we respect our donors’ wishes while delivering the funding our organizations need to successfully achieve their missions? And, arguably, Facebook may have been unfairly singled out on the issue of user data. Google, Amazon, Twitter and hundreds of other platforms are equally as active in gathering as much insight as they can from their users’ data. Essentially, we are all seeking to achieve the same outcome: deliver the best personalized and relevant individual experience possible.
The good news is that Cambridge Analytica has only damaged, not destroyed, the potential of addressable platforms like Facebook. As many of you likely experience and recent surveys have shown, 68 percent of U.S. adults still use Facebook, three quarters of whom check the platform daily. But there are changes as to how marketers can engage with them.
The most notable among those changes is that Facebook is removing “Partner Categories.” This eliminates the ability to use third-party data to target which users see ads. In addition, they are making user privacy controls simpler to use and more transparent. While still unconfirmed, there are also rumors that consent may be required by users who are uploaded into custom audiences.
But many things are not changing, and what is changing can be addressed. “Custom Audiences” will still be a powerful tool for delivering a targeted and relevant experience for an organization’s supporters. Only now, fundraisers will need to spend more time thinking and planning in advance about how best to segment and data-enhance their audiences before creating their “Facebook Custom Audiences.” And, we should all be reviewing our privacy policies to ensure that we are being clear and transparent with our supporters about how we will and will not use their data (with GDPR around the corner, hopefully this is something you are addressing anyway).
At the end of the day, nonprofit marketers and fundraisers have managed an evolving market for many years. From “do not call” to “do not mail” and the CAN-SPAM Act, there’s a path to both honor your supporters and fulfill your goals. I am confident Facebook will continue to evolve its user management and continue to push new boundaries in people-based marketing.