Ottawa businesses sticking by Facebook despite scandals, marketing experts say

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While Facebook’s public image may be taking a beating, many local businesses are sticking with the social media giant, several Ottawa-based marketing firms say.

If anything, some say coverage of the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal – which included the improper sharing of personal data of millions of users worldwide – has piqued the interest among some businesses in how they can better target potential customers in a more customized fashion.

However, concerns are growing that Facebook’s responses to the recent flurry of negative news may make the social media platform far less cost-effective for business marketing.

“Some people are seeing opportunity (and) … some are horrified,” says Michael Sauvé, director of accounts and operations at Mediaforce. “People are more fully digital and realizing the scope to which the world also is,” he adds.

Facebook is facing a growing international uproar over the questionable use of personal data for political purposes. The company estimates 622,161 users in Canada had their data improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica through apps used by themselves or their friends.

Overall, Facebook says that 87 million of its users worldwide were affected – significantly more than the 50 million originally believed to be affected – with nearly 82 per cent of them believed to be located in the United States.

In the aftermath of the revelations, a survey found that nearly three-quarters of Canadian Facebook users say they plan to change how they use the platform.

Jesse Perreault, a digital marketing specialist at Soap Media, says he’s noticed some users having less of a positive perception of Facebook since the Cambridge Analytica story emerged.

Perreault and his team were curious if the news would affect how much the firm’s clients want to spend on Facebook advertising, and if the marketing messages would have the same reach.

A decline, he explains, would suggest individuals within target markets are spending less time on Facebook.

“Our team hasn’t seen that in clients yet. They’ve still been maximizing their reach,” Perreault says.

In the long term, however, he questions how well Facebook will be able to weather the storm. Facebook is becoming known for collecting vast amounts of data about its users, which has put a “bad taste in consumers’ mouths lately,” says Perreault.

While he’s not predicting the platform’s demise, he nevertheless argues that “it can have an impact if enough people get sick of its practices.”

Mark Jamieson, a managing partner at WSI eStrategies, says scandals such as these tend to blow over quickly and that social media users have become more “desensitized” to a lack of privacy.

He foresees Facebook tightening its privacy settings, but continuing to play a significant role for businesses.

However, the competition – and cost – to appear in users’ news feeds is also increasing, Jamieson says. In January, Facebook announced it was overhauling some of its algorithms to prioritize posts from one’s friends and family at the expense of unpaid content published by businesses.

“No one goes on Facebook to be sold to,” Jamieson says, and the number of ads that had become routine for Facebook users’ homepages was lowering the platform’s quality.

“No one goes on Facebook to be sold to.”

Sauvé says this move could actually benefit advertisers – albeit, those who are willing to pay – by increasing user engagement.

He adds that the Cambridge Analytica scandal has sparked conversations about how businesses can leverage data about social media users for legitimate marketing purposes.

Far removed from talk of rigging elections, Sauvé says the data held by social media firms can help marketers become more effective.

If someone is in the market for a new pair of boots, for example, it makes sense to show that particular person a footwear ad, he says.

“Consumers… like saving the $10, but what they really like is the experience that's relevant to them, and Facebook is good at that."

– With reporting by the Canadian Press