Facebook, the world’s largest media company, has messed up. By not correctly monitoring Cambridge Analytica, a company they had granted access to registered users’ data, the data was misused to the nefarious and potentially unethical benefit of one of Cambridge Analytica’s clients. In this act, Facebook failed to protect users’ data sufficiently.
In one of the most high-profile stories in crisis management of recent months, coverage has been nearly constant, and thanks in part to a slow response by the social media behemoth, its stock suffered. Massively.
The crisis and subsequent coverage wiped 18% – almost $80 billion dollars – from Facebook’s market value. But when you’re talking about a company that, by those figures, is worth around $450 billion, it’s clear that it will survive. But that doesn’t mean complacency is an acceptable response.
Owning an issue is the first step to recovery. Although Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, was slow to respond publicly to the media, when it came, the response was positive.
Mr Zuckerberg is not a poor public speaker; something clearly evidenced as following the first day of the questioning, Facebook’s stock reclaimed 5% of it’s pre-crisis value. That’s the value in the guy at the top holding his hands up and apologising. In Mr Zuckerberg’s own words: “I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens.”
Step two: when questioned, answer honestly.
There was a long list of questions which the CEO wasn’t able to immediately answer and to each one he said he would check with his team and respond in full at a later stage. That’s another important step; don’t make a crisis worse by guessing, glossing over the truth, trying to downplay the importance of something, or worse still, lie.
Laughter puts almost everyone at ease. Mark Zuckerberg was placed in front of a number of elected officials, some of whom weren’t very social media savvy, so humorous moments were almost a guarantee. One particular question that could have tripped up the CEO when asked by an uninformed senior politician came from Senator Orrin Hatch, who asked: “How do you sustain a business model in which people don’t pay for your services?” The simple answer given: “Senator, we run ads.”
Zuckerberg delivered the answer simply, but with a slight smile, showing that he recognised the Senator’s lack of understanding. But instead of replying in a disparaging manner, Mr Zuckerberg used it as an opportunity to explain that ads were targeted based on preferences that each user signs up to, demonstrating that users had opted in to such adverts.
The old adage “you don’t get anything for nothing” runs true here. If you have a relationship with a service supplier and you can’t see the product, then you may well be the product. Facebook offers people a choice: use our service and we will collect data, don’t use our service and we won’t.
The crisis came not from the collection of the data, but the use that Cambridge Analytica put it to. Facebook will survive this crisis; it’s too big not to. Many of us may be shocked and disappointed that the data was shared, and how it was used, but how many have stopped using the service?
No-one is forced to sign up to Facebook, and all users who do will have accepted terms and conditions that state what data will be collected and how it will be used. The language used in these terms though, is far from clear; something almost all companies are guilty of.
We all have certain rights to privacy, but we are all guilty of signing up to services without fully reading the terms and conditions thoroughly. So how will this change?
Terms and conditions are by their nature long, legal and tedious to read through. That’s why so many of us accept them without thoroughly reading them. But under the imminent changes to data protection, the onus will be on the supplier to ensure they are clear and accessible. There is also a need to positively opt in to receive information (and targeted ads) based on data given. Pre-ticked boxes cannot be used, and the decision to opt in must be a separate action for each purpose that the data will be used for.
It could be argued that this will play into the hands of skilled PR practitioners. If ad clicks are down and people don’t actively opt in to data capture for the purposes of third party advertising, then the balance between advertising, marketing and public relations may shift. While all will have a part to play, the perceived value of PR could be about to rise once more.