By Ben Mizes
Facebook changed our lives on a scale that few things since antibiotics or the combustion engine have. But just as those advances came with hidden downsides, like antibiotic-resistant superbugs and greenhouse gases, the sheer ubiquity of Facebook has precipitated a crisis of public trust.
Let’s be clear: it’s still the most popular website on the planet, with 2.38 billion monthly active users worldwide. But Facebook users have become measurably less engaged, and recent findings show that they have serious concerns about trust and security on the site. This has negative consequences, not only on our online lives in general, but on the bottom lines of businesses who depend on online marketing to reach customers.
The Biggest Game in Town Is Also the Shakiest
As you probably know, a few tech giants dominate the online marketing game. Facebook, Google and YouTube don’t charge users for their services, instead monetizing their traffic by selling ad space to marketers. But the value of that ad space is dependent on appearing legitimate and secure to users, and recent studies indicate that this trust is quickly eroding.
Unfortunately for us, a lot of this mistrust has been caused by Facebook itself. In 2018, the company had one of the worst years in corporate history, with courts in Europe ruling that the company’s data collection policies and user tracking (which form a foundational part of its marketing package) broke privacy laws, as well as the infamous Cambridge Analytica scandal which led to investigations by the FBI, FTC, Department of Justice, and SEC. And let’s not delve too deeply into the many security flaws, hacker intrusions, and storage vulnerabilities that left the persona info of millions of accounts vulnerable.
To compound matters, these controversies have led Facebook to remove targeting options from their platform, hampering advertisers’ ability to target audiences as those same audiences become less engaged with the platform.
Mistrust, by the Numbers
So how, exactly, does Facebook’s crisis of trust affect us? At Clever Real Estate, our business model depends on our ability to reach prospective customers online, so we surveyed 1,139 Americans to discern how, exactly, they feel about their online lives.
Right off the bat, 95% of surveyed users expressed concern about maintaining their privacy on social media in general. Narrowing things down, 80% of users registered concerns about privacy on Facebook specifically. If you advertise on Facebook, this number should be of grave concern to you.
Regarding social media ads, 76% of Americans find them annoying, and 83% find it creepy or annoying when a brand's ad follows them around online (i.e. remarketing). It goes without saying that if your target market describes your advertising outreach as “creepy” or “annoying,” you probably need to do some serious recalibration.
Digging deeper into our findings, only 37% of Americans bought a product or service in 2019 because of a social media ad. To put this into context, a different survey from 2017 found that 76% of consumers bought a product after viewing a brand’s social media post. Not only has the swing in consumer sentiment been extreme, but it happened seemingly overnight.
This loss of trust has made it harder for everyone to reach customers online, but it’s been especially hard on new businesses. We found that only 30% of Americans are comfortable submitting their personal information online to a brand they’re not familiar with. Not only does this make it harder for existing businesses to expand, but it could have a serious chilling effect on entrepreneurs who may decide that it’s just too hard to launch a new venture in a degraded and insecure online environment.
So What’s the Upshot?
Bad news first: if you were counting on a future of low-effort, algorithm-driven advertising, you might want to go back to the drawing board.
The good news is that this kind of authenticity benefits everyone involved: businesses, customers and communities, online and otherwise. If we can learn from Facebook’s mistakes, we can reclaim our online futures from the forces of distrust and alienation, and reshape the Internet into a place where we can all thrive.
About Ben Mizes
Ben Mizes is the Co-Founder and CEO of Clever Real Estate, a free online service that connects home buyers and sellers with real estate agents.