How "The Facebook Files" Could Impact Social Media Marketing

How “The Facebook Files” Could Impact Social Media Marketing

The Fallout from “The Facebook Files” Has Begun. What Does This Mean for Brands?

The recent announcement that Instagram has stopped the development of Instagram Kids (as we recommended back in March) was not some isolated incident brought about by spontaneous internal soul searching. Rather it appears to be the first chip to fall from the bombshell “Facebook Files” series released two weeks prior by the Wall Street Journal.

How "The Facebook Files" Could Impact Social Media Marketing

This likely won’t be the last reaction we see to the extensive reporting by the WSJ. In fact, brands should be prepared for other changes that could impact their social media marketing performance. 

But first, what are the core issues raised by The Facebook Files? There were five. 

  1. That Facebook has a list of some 5.8 million VIP users who didn’t have to follow the same rules as other users in terms of what they were able to post. 
  2. That Facebook knew for years that Instagram hurts the mental health of its young users, but didn’t make changes recommended by its internal team. 
  3. That Facebook’s major algorithm overhaul in 2018, designed to increase the “meaningful social interactions” we all experienced on the platform instead made it an angrier place. 
  4. That Facebook staff were able to identify likely cases of drug cartels and human traffickers using the platform for their misdeeds, but took inadequate action, or no action at all. 
  5. That Mark Zuckerberg’s efforts to promote COVID-19 vaccines actually increased the amount of negative vaccine information on the platform. 

The “Pausing” of Instagram Kids

The Instagram team said that pausing development of Instagram Kids “will give us time to work with parents, experts, policymakers and regulators, to listen to their concerns, and to demonstrate the value and importance of this project for younger teens online today.” 

That certainly seems to be a reflection of the concern outlined in the second article above. If the current Instagram product is leading to mental health issues for those over the age of 13, what might it do for those even younger? That, along with data and privacy issues, was among our concerns all along. 

What’s Next for Brands?

Two of the five articles above share one underlying issue: The Facebook algorithm is not working as the company intended. In both the 3rd article and the 5th article, algorithm changes directed by the very highest levels of the company actually backfired and made problems worse. What’s the only logical response to a broken algorithm, particularly when the world now knows that it’s broken?

Change the Algorithm Again

Major algorithm changes over the years have devastated publishers and others that rely on social traffic for their business model. But they’ve also required changes from social media marketers. More changes are likely in the works within Facebook today. It’s hard to predict that impact on social media marketing at this early stage, but it’s a safe bet that changes are coming. Flexibility, as always, will be important.

More Regulations of Social Platforms

Legislators love a news series like the Facebook Files. They can hold hearings, propose new legislation and call on regulators to write new rules. I’d be surprised if that didn’t happen as well. 

Gradual Changes to “Social Media Norms”

We’ve already seen younger generations eschew the “perfection” esthetic in favor of authenticity. But public awareness of mental health challenges created by all of us posting only the shiny side of our lives will likely lead to gradual changes. Brands should watch this trend as well and ensure their social content continues to fit in on the platforms on which it appears. Authenticity and product use cases will likely win out over glamour shots over time. 

Erosion of Trust

If this series contributes to an erosion of trust in Facebook as a company, it could lead to a decline in usage of Facebook and/or Instagram. Social media, however, isn’t going away. Brands may need to consider a diversified strategy to reach those spending more time on other platforms to make up the difference. 

While the Facebook Files haven’t dominated multiple news cycles, I suspect they will reverberate for all of us for the next 6-12 months.

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