Mark Zuckerberg on stage at a tech conference with a video of him on a big screen behind him.
PHOTO: Mike

Mark Zuckerberg outlined his vision for Facebook earlier this month as a "privacy-focused messaging and social networking platform." The Facebook CEO noted the growing online communication trends of private messaging, ephemeral stories and small groups, hallmarks of a social-sharing era in which people “prefer the intimacy of communicating one-on-one or with just a few friends. People are more cautious of having a permanent record of what they've shared.”

What does that mean for Facebook’s future? Zuckerberg promised Facebook will help the online world shift to “private, encrypted services where people can be confident what they say to each other stays secure and their messages and content won't stick around forever.”

Zuckerberg certainly hit all the right PR terms at a time when Facebook remains under constant scrutiny for fumbling on protecting users’ privacy. Do you think this is a PR blog post, something that came out of a board meeting? Or a genuine, thoughtful outline for the world’s largest social media platform, which includes 35,587 employees and 1.52 billion daily active users?

If you believe in the latter and you’re a marketer that uses Facebook for campaigns, you probably should be preparing for some changes. Sure, it won’t be any time soon that Facebook puts Zuckerberg’s privacy-focused vision into action, he mentioned it would take a “few years” in the blog post.

No Impact on Marketers, Yet

So, is it time for marketers to brace for change, or at least speculate? Not quite. “Mark Zuckerberg's new privacy vision for Facebook entirely misses the boat in terms of Facebook's ongoing publicity/data-management issues,” said Tim Gelinas, associate creative director of MarketReach. “As a result, it should not impact marketers in a huge way.”

One potential impact that stands out now, according to Gelinas, is Zuckerberg’s focus on killing content after a period of time, much like Snapchat does. “I believe there's an opportunity to set a new standard for private communication platforms — where content automatically expires or is archived over time,” Zuckerberg said. “Stories already expire after 24 hours unless you archive them, and that gives people the comfort to share more naturally. This philosophy could be extended to all private content.”

The implementation surrounding reducing permanence could affect brands relying on an engaged audience in their stories platform, according to Gelinas. “However, without the specifics, social media marketers shouldn't expect these changes to affect their marketing strategies, at least not in the short-term,” he said.

Related Article: Facebook's Difficult Relationship With Data Privacy

Marketers Should Ask Lots of Questions

“The first question every marketer should ask themselves after the Facebook announcement is, 'Does my organization need to do more to protect the data privacy of the people at the receiving end of our marketing?'” said Andy Sambandam, CEO of Clarip. “Mark Zuckerberg's announcement is a decision to wave a big white flag in response to his previous statement that privacy is dead. Marketers need to be adapting their overall practices to put privacy first, and they will be well positioned for the future of Facebook if Zuckerberg decides to do the same,” said Sambandam.

Though the impact may be minimal at best for Facebook marketers, they still should be asking some questions, according to Chris Knight, PR director for RTB House:

  • How can we create a more personalized, relevant and pleasant experience for consumers? 
  • What technologies or approaches can we tap to deliver an experience that is more like a personal shopper catering to consumers to boost campaign effectiveness?
  • How can we provide more transparency on how data from consumers who do opt-in is being used? 

Related Article: 6 Considerations for Marketers Working With Facebook

Soak Up Targeting Capabilities While They Last

Marketers should be soaking up all of Facebook’s current capabilities for targeting customers and prospects in light of an uncertain future, according to Tim Parkin, president of Parkin Consulting. “Savvy marketers should be asking themselves how to maximize the targeting options currently provided in order to create long-term marketing assets outside of the Facebook platform, such as cross-channel re-targeting of audiences and segmented email lists,” Parkin said. “Developing these marketing assets now, before Facebook makes more cuts to their targeting capabilities, is key to mitigating the impact of any future changes to the Facebook advertising platform.”

Facebook already has a track record of removing targeting options for a variety of reasons (see example 1 and example 2), so it should come as no surprise that they will continue to limit or remove more targeting options in an effort to demonstrate that they are trying to protect the privacy of their users, Parkin said. 

Related Article: Marketers Warn: 'Day of Reckoning' Over Facebook Data Scandal Coming

It May Be Time to Diversify

If you find yourself leaning toward Facebook for most of your marketing campaigns, it’s probably time to diversity, said Jason Decker, founder of Vivid Web Marketing. “As a Facebook marketing agency owner, I think the big question for me is how this is going to affect my advertising campaigns. I think they are going in the right direction for personal privacy, but much of the data that causes some issues with personal privacy is what makes advertising on Facebook so powerful.”

Experienced marketers should never rely on one source of traffic, he said. “We should all diversify because we never know when a change could be made that ruins our business/career."