Facebook is in the news again, this time for making user data available to companies such as Netflix, Spotify, Microsoft, and the New York Times, in order to give third-parties the tools they need to build and provide features to better integrate with Facebook. Facebook used loopholes to circumvent terms and conditions about making this data available without user permission.
In some cases, this actually helped FB usability, and was transparent to users, such as integrating with Apple iPhone platform so that users could link their Facebook calendars with their iPhone calendars. Apple states that the user data required for this stayed on the iPhone of the FB user.
While many companies named in this news story state that that they were unaware of the permissions granted to them, this does not negate the seriousness of this action by Facebook. Some clients have questioned the need to stay on Facebook and indeed, some are abandoning or deleting their accounts, walking away from communities that they have carefully built up over time.
Is that the right thing to do? To be honest, I can’t say. It’s an individual decision, based on your comfort level with Facebook’s actions, and with your ability to make the changes necessary to retool your social media strategy. As a social media manager and consultant, my job is to support my clients and help them find the best tools possible to accomplish their business goals. If a client feels strongly enough about this particular issue, I can and have helped them figure out alternative strategies.
Other clients, as well as friends and colleagues, shrug and say that data breaches can, and do, happen on every social media platform. This is also true. In which case, the best thing I can do for clients is to help them preserve the privacy of their data, while keeping them on track to maintain and grow their communities and connections. It’s hard to quit a platform that provides a variety of tools for small businesses and non-profits, not to mention one that is, essentially, free. Keep in mind that this platform costs a lot of money to run, however, and the company needs to pay for all those server farms some way. Facebook ads alone are not sufficient.
My recommendation is to take some time and think about your overall social media strategy. What’s working? What’s not? Is the latest data breach a deal breaker for me? If you have a consultant, speak frankly with them about it. (If you need a consultant, I am here. :-) )
Here are some general guidelines for an effective and safe social media strategy that you should find helpful, regardless of whether that strategy incorporates Facebook.
Be careful with what you share on social media. When I first started using social media, I decided never to share information that I would not want to see on the evening news. This is what I tell my clients, too. Of course, business-related content is designed to be shared, but overall, whenever you post something online, it’s worth taking five minutes and thinking about whether this content could be interpreted as inappropriate or reveals information that perhaps should not be disclosed. We must all take some responsibility for the content we create and share online. This is not victim-blaming - no online platform should share user data and content without express permission - but it is always wise to think before posting.
Know where your people are. There is a tendency to jump onto a social media platform because you already know how to use it or because you think you should be on it. Many small business owners gravitate to Facebook because Facebook is free and provides a variety of tools for business promotion. But your first consideration for choosing a social media platform is to be where your clients or customers are. If you run a small craft business, you might want to think about Pinterest as a primary platform, for example.
Diversify. One of the cardinal rules of successful money management is to have a diversified portfolio that includes a mix of stocks, bonds, and cash. This portfolio can be adjusted to changing market conditions. In other words, don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Having a stock-heavy portfolio can be problematic in times of recession. Having mostly cash means that you miss out on gains in a bull market.
The same is true for social media. I know many people with small businesses who rely entirely on Facebook or Pinterest. But if something happens to that platform, then all your community building efforts there are for naught. A solid online marketing portfolio should consist, first and foremost, of an effective, current web site, and perhaps 2 social media platforms that drive traffic to that website. Regardless of what happens with social media, your website is yours and not subject to the whims third-party organizations. And then you have a primary and spare social media platform to drive traffic to your website.
Be alert to all possible data breach issues. And act on them. After the news was made public about how Facebook sold data extracted from information provided in games and quizzes, I still see people using them. Again, not to blame the victims, but you can’t complain about Facebook if you knowingly participate in activities that may compromise your user data.
Have an exit strategy. Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. If you decide to leave a social media platform, tell people where they can find you, and maybe why. You built up this community - you owe it to them to tell them where to find you. They may or may not follow you to your new social media presence, but it won’t be for lack of information about where you ended up.
Social media can be fun. It’s a great way to stay connected with far-flung friends and family. For small businesses, it’s a low-cost way to create community and reach out to current and potential clients and customers. Just use it wisely.