Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg holding a microphone giving a talk.
PHOTO: Silverisdead

The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data-targeting scandal that put Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in front of Congress for a two-day grilling on privacy practices serves as a “day of reckoning” and wake-up call for marketers who have lost their way treating customers as targets in exchange for short-term lifts.

Those were some of the thoughts marketing experts shared with CMSWire as the Facebook data fallout continues. Last month, it was revealed that third-party data collector Cambridge Analytica obtained the private data of more than 50 million Facebook users without their consent. Facebook confirmed about 87 million were affected and is now on a Privacy PR tour to help regain the trust of its users and advertisers. 

We caught up with marketers and marketing experts to discuss things marketers and brands should be considering about their data targeting and collection practices in light of the Facebook data scandal.

Data Targeting Changes

Congress peppered Zuckerberg on Capitol Hill this month as the Facebook CEO voluntarily took his privacy beat down. No formal regulations are in the works for the US — yet. For now, American marketers’ tool usage rights and privacy laws remained unchanged. Of course, there still is GDPR in the European Union (EU) to consider — and compliance day is next month. “For both marketers and publishers, the day of reckoning is around the corner,” said Dave Batista, chief operating officer at Beam, a Boston-based digital agency. “A lot of the personal profiles and personal data that’s been powering marketers’ ability to be really targeted and smart about delivering messages and experiences to the right people … some of those tools may end up getting altered or compromised. A lot of the ground rules may change.”

American Congress, Batista said, may use the GDPR as a model to propose regulation. “I think marketers are certainly a little bit wary because a lot of them [marketers] have only just been really for the first time in the last six to 12 months, using personalized data from Oracle BlueKai and other sources,” Batista said. “And now that landscape seems like it's about to begin shifting under their feet.”

Related Article: 6 Considerations For Marketers Working With Facebook

Time for Marketers to Make ‘Serious Course Correction’

The backlash against Facebook is a “wake-up call” for marketers who now must realize it’s time to make a “serious course correction,” said John Ounpuu, a partner and co-founder of Vancouver marketing consultancy Modern Craft. He says that the problem is much bigger than Facebook and that ultimately it's a good thing. "I believe this is actually good news. Too many marketers have grown too enamored of short-cuts and short-termism. We’ve lost sight the power of building a brand with real depth and power over the long term.”

Marketers have long treated customers as targets and “lost sight of them as human beings.” Ounpuu added marketers have “under-invested in other phases of the customer journey, beyond awareness and acquisition.” It’s time marketers, he added, “make a serious course correction.” 

Brace for Third-Party Changes

If your social advertising campaigns rely heavily on third-party data you should be worried about losing these capabilities in the coming months, said Sophia Pollock, paid social account manager at San Diego-based Power Digital Marketing. “When the story first broke the team at Power Digital immediately predicted that this would result in a loss of access to Oracle/Acxiom data,” Pollock said. “A few days later we received an update from Facebook confirming that our prediction was correct.” 

Pollock said her team is preparing for a loss in targeting capabilities by creating high-quality creative, engaging and enticing experiences for users who are not familiar with brands. “If you can’t tailor a user’s experience through hyper-specific targeting,” she said, “you can do everything in your power to provide them with high-quality creative that improves their online experience.” Vet your data sources, confirm that email lists were obtained with proper permissions and focus on putting the consumer experience first, she added. “Although some data may be ‘legally’ obtained, that does not always make it ethical, and it is important to look at data collecting practices from both angles,” Pollock said.

Related Article: Marketers, Data Collection and the E-Word: Ethics

Prioritize Data Security

If data isn’t secure, it isn’t private. Marketers and their businesses must prioritize the security of user data, according to David Thomas, CEO of Atlanta-based Evident ID. This includes, he said, implementing strict security protocols about what data is really required from users, who has access to that data, internally and externally, and most importantly, how that data is handled and stored. “Facebook may have been well intended about the purpose of sharing data with platform apps,” he said. “However, their lack of foresight into what may happen with an app or company that was not as positively intended is a good lesson for all of us.” Traditional methods of holding multiple pieces of information in one centralized database need to evolve for the security of their users and the business, he added.  

Transparency Rules the Day

Be as transparent as possible with the measures you are taking to protect your customer's information, said Dan Goldstein, president and owner of Page 1 Solutions, a digital marketing agency based in Lakewood, Colo. “You can make use of your blog and social channels to educate people about the importance of taking ownership of their personal data security and online privacy. This will help to show that you are tuned in and equally concerned about these matters,” Goldstein said. 

Top of the funnel advertising relies, Goldstein added, more heavily on outside user data, to reach people you are not yet connected to. “Once your potential customers know about you, you can focus more on re-marketing, opt-in and marketing automation strategies,” Goldstein said, “in which case third-party data becomes irrelevant.” Maximize the creativity and effectiveness of your campaigns to increase the number of people that voluntarily opt-in to receive content and marketing messages and be organized and detailed in maintaining and segmenting client and prospect lists, shared Goldstein. 

Advertise, he said, to real people that have actually visited your site, interacted with you on your social channels, engaged with your content and subscribed to your email list. These tactics, Goldstein said, "will always be more effective than relying on third-party data to target a cold audience."

Create a More Balanced Marketing Approach

Brands should be worried about negative brand perception due to association with Facebook specifically and, beyond just Facebook, their visible over-investment in surveillance-driven digital advertising, Ounpuu said. Adjust your marketing model, putting less emphasis on data-driven acquisition and short-term lift. “This doesn’t mean you never work with Google or Facebook," he said. "It’s simply about embracing a more balanced, customer-centric approach.”

Take a serious look at the way you use data — not just for advertising but across all marketing activities. A change in governance is probably in order, but it starts with a change in mindset, according to Ounpuu. “Think of data as a representation or embodiment of your customers and treat it accordingly: with care, courtesy and respect. Collect and store it with explicit permission, safeguard it with great care and use it with the primary aim of creating more value for customers,” he said. Make sure this approach comes to life everywhere, marketers should insist that vendors and partners — including digital ad platforms — meet their standards. he added. 

Know About Your Data Walled Gardens

Marketers should be mindful that any data that marketers put into a "walled garden" like Facebook when running campaigns stays with Facebook — and can be used for Facebook's own purposes, said Andy Dale, general counsel at Boston-based SessionM. “Now,” he said, “is a good time to ensure that privacy policies are up-to-date and cover the brand's marketing activities in sufficient detail. Additionally, marketers should lean on the brand's internal legal/privacy teams to be a big part of the vendor selection and review process.”

Related Article: Data Is a Big Deal, So Treat It That Way

Build Long-Lasting Relationships with Customers

"Marketers should approach their mobile strategy in 2018 as a way to build trust and strengthen their relationships with consumers,” said Chaitanya Chandrasekar, CEO of Redwood City, Calif.-based QuanticMind. Marketers will need to renew focus on building long-lasting relationships with their customers, which will ultimately provide critical insights for targeting and personalization down the funnel. “The brands that value customer experience and customer data and who do right by customers are the ones that are going to be in a better position anyway,” he said.

He added the Facebook data scandal may serve as a catalyst to help brands build stronger relationships with their customers. “If brands develop stronger relationships with their customers, users will want to engage more with the brand and eventually opt-in to providing more of their data,” he said.

Grow Your Influencer Programs

Facebook’s data woes has caused some to look at their marketing influencers. Duncan Alney, CEO of Indianapolis-based Firebelly, a social media marketing agency, said influencers are going to play a larger role in targeted marketing and have already developed a level of trust with their followers. “As marketers,” he said, “we want to grow our influencer program and do what we can to make our efforts valuable to our clients.”

Related Article: How GDPR Will Help Rebuild Data Protection and Customer Trust

Trust Your First-Party Data

Smart and well-diversified marketers are more reliant on first-party data, coupled with platform data (Think Facebook, Twitter,etc.) that is not dependent on third-party data brokerages, said Andrew Becks, chief operating officer for 301 Digital Media, a Nashville-based digital marketing and media buying agency. Continue to build faith in your first-party data. “While there's certainly no doubt that the third-party data is both useful and valuable, learning to adapt to dynamic and changing digital ecosystems is par for the course, and not something that I spend time worrying about,” Becks said. “Organizations that are too reliant on data provided by other companies may find themselves in untenable positions over the long term,” he said.

De-Emphasize Highly-Granular Data Collection

American marketers can learn from their British counterparts. Jordan Harling, chief digital strategist for West Yorkshire, UK-based Wooden Blinds Direct, said his team just completed months of preparation for GDPR. “To perform effective marketing, he said, “we don’t need the highly granular data that we are all currently able to access. The benefits of hyper-targeted campaigns are usually overshadowed by the time needed to conduct them and the general creepiness that they give off to your audience. We’ve all been unnerved by an advert that seems a little too specific from time to time.” 

Harling’s teams are minimizing data that it keeps, cutting down to just the necessities and focusing instead on trust. “We’ve applied this principle to all elements of our marketing — re-opting in our email database, beefing up our social media offerings, and making sure that we’re only marketing to those who want to hear from us,” Harling said.

Related Article: Big Tech in the Crosshairs

Ensure Consent is Affirmative, Not Passive

Zachary Paruch, product manager and legal analyst at Dover, Del.-based Termly, said conversations marketing executives should be having "should start and end with obtaining adequate consent from their users for data collection, sharing and usage practices." Make the consent affirmative — and not passive — meaning that users will have to manually opt in to participation in any marketing campaigns. This will help marketers take “huge strides toward keeping businesses on the right side of the GDPR, but also safeguard them from potential backlash and public outcry, as all users who are targeted for marketing efforts will have opted in to receiving them.”