With the 2020 elections already underway, social media marketing is in the spotlight. Although I am not sure if the spotlight was ever really off of its data-driven science since the 2016 election.
Although all of the major social networking platforms have been dragged in front of congress to discuss how they use data, it was the relationship between Facebook and Cambridge Analytica that drew the most media attention and become the poster child.
What data-driven marketers need to recognize is that what happened with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica was not some off-the-books, sneaky misuse of social data. Rather, it was executed very much in line with the broader vision of social media marketing. That has implications for how we use social media as part of our digital marketing mix.
Why Data-Driven Marketers Must Take Stock Now
What makes social media a powerful platform for marketers is that it not only targets individuals based on demographics, but it could also targets based on their location, personality and current context.
Considering all of the conscious and unconscious information users can share on social platforms, there is a powerful amount of information algorithms can mine to generate marketing content and messages most likely to resonate with users. Not only can social media know where you are and what you like, but also your closest friends and your emotional state on any given day. It is even likely that social media algorithms have a better understanding of your underlying emotions and motivations than you do. To anyone who has spent time micro-targeting, this is not a surprise. Given enough data, a shockingly perceptive algorithm can be developed. This is why social media had mile-high stock valuations even when platforms were still hemorrhaging cash.
Let’s face it; marketing has always included an element of manipulation. The function of consumer insights and research is designed to provide marketers levers for manipulation. With some exceptions, we have been able to sleep at night knowing that the consumer stood a chance or that we were also offering a real benefit, so some manipulation was just part of it. When we started using rich data with algorithms to develop more targeted models, many of us saw this as the ultimate example of customer empathy. This was going to empower marketers to become highly relevant to their consumers.
Those who were not on board were behind the times. (To confess, I used to view most cautionary voices as laggards or technophobes. Some were, some weren’t, but they were also right to worry.)
Today, we need to take stock of how that empathy is used. With great empathy comes the power of even greater manipulation. Despite all of the data policies out there, we are not addressing the real question: How much manipulation is too much?
Is it fair to push an antacid ad at someone who posts about a visit to the county fair and winning the pie-eating contest? Seems “big brother-ish,” but benign?
How about pushing anti-anxiety medication ads to a college student going through a breakup during finals week?
While this sounds horrible, we technically can.
Don’t Do It Just Because You Can
How companies manage and leverage consumer data is becoming part of the company’s ethical standards, but we need to extend beyond data privacy to data use.
Just like use of child labor, environmental footprints and other ethical standards, standards on the use of consumer data will be a critical way that companies define their brands and the role they wish to play.