Facebook now reports that as many as 87 million Facebook users may have had their data exposed as part of the Cambridge Analytica situation. The company’s stock price has dipped more than 10%. #DeleteFacebook campaigns are making the rounds. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s own COO, has acknowledged that advertisers have curtailed spending.
So where does this leave the millions of brands that rely on Facebook to share their message with customers and with the world?
The short—and possibly surprising—answer: in a good position. The chaos of the last few weeks belies a critical fact. The events at Facebook have accelerated an important shift—one already in progress—toward restoring faith and trust among social media users. And we all stand to benefit.
In the span of a decade, social media has gone from dorm rooms to the global stage, with networks now counting more than 3 billion users worldwide. The accompanying cultural and technological changes have been profound, to say the least—and not always easy to anticipate. Networks built on authenticity and real human connection saw their efforts undermined by malicious bots and bad actors.
Facebook is now spearheading the charge to restore exactly that kind of trust and connection. They’re reining in the ways third parties can access data, cracking down on foreign operatives, recalibrating algorithms to surface more meaningful content, clarifying privacy settings, offering users a bird's-eye view of their data, complying with General Data Protection Regulation rules (increasingly, the gold standard globally), and updating terms of service to spell out more clearly what data their services collect.
Behind all of this is a recognition that transparency and trust have always been what makes social media special—its greatest virtue and greatest vulnerability. Facebook’s commitment to restoring this sense of trust is earnest and its vision is long-term. They know that their future, in no uncertain terms, depends on it. There’s no doubt that the Cambridge Analytica situation has set off shockwaves. But it’s proved also proved a critical wake-up call.
Let there be no doubt. Users will increasingly demand more from their networks. Social platforms, across the board, will up their game—weeding out malicious bots, safeguarding privacy and prioritizing meaningful connection over short-term gain. In fact, we can see these changes already afoot in Twitter’s efforts to reduce duplicate posts and Instagram’s follow limits. As trust is restored, we’ll see more and more of the infectious energy and immediacy that drew people to social media in the first place.
What does this mean for brands? To be clear, Facebook isn’t going anywhere. It’s a plumbing of the Internet and a crucial component of how we live our lives and do business today. The present may be trying. But as these needed changes unfold, brands that engage with transparency and creativity—i.e. the right way—will find a more receptive and bought-in audience than ever on Facebook and other platforms. Spammers, trolls and manipulators, however, will be increasingly out of luck.
It’s about time.