| The question that I have been asked more times than any other this week has been “should I give up using Facebook?” Well, billionaire Elon Musk has done so, removing Tesla and his other brands from Facebook. The founder of WhatsApp (bought from him by Facebook four years ago) Tweeted that it is now time to “#deletefacebook”. And weeks ago now, the initial funder of Facebook, billionaire Sean Parker, criticised Facebook for exploiting human vulnerability. These are senior people in the tech world, all saying Facebook is not worthwhile. They know a thing or two.
You may recall that at the beginning of the year I asked in this newsletter whether it was time for businesses to give up Facebook in the light of changes to the timeline that would make most business activity invisible. Now, the revelations about Facebook’s own vulnerability to firms like Cambridge Analytica suggest it is time for a serious rethink about social media strategies.
For some time I have worried that Facebook is not up to the job. A while back I conducted a small study to see if its advertising claims were correct. I set up an advert which would only appear to people in a specific area – my home parish. I know how many people live there, just over 2,000 according to the local authority. Yet, Facebook’s algorithmically-based advertising system promised me I would be reaching 20,000 individuals. It made me wonder how many advertisers on Facebook had been given similar unrealistic promises. Correcting errors like this is impossible. The system involves two billion people making billions of updates each week. Tracking down the mistakes and dealing with them is just not possible.
Another worrying issue is the “fake news” scandal that erupted late in 2017. Facebook promised software to fix it. However, in spite of putting its myriad of technical minds to the task, the software “fix” actually promoted MORE fake news and pushed real news aside. That algorithm had to be withdrawn as it had the completely opposite effect to that which was intended.
A further issue was demonstrated by the recent reporting in The Observer newspaper and the subsequent Channel 4 News investigation. Facebook was given two weeks advance notice of the publication, so had plenty of time to prepare a response. Even so, it took five more days following the publication of the news before Facebook said anything. All it said was a holding statement to buy time. That’s worrying that a firm which had advanced notice of negative publicity didn’t have a plan to deal with it, even though it had sufficient time to come up with something.
As I see it, there are a couple of significant issues with Facebook as a business. Firstly, what they are dealing with is so big, so constantly changing, that no systems yet exist to cope with dealing with that unimaginably massive volume of work. Secondly, the average age of the employees at Facebook is just 28. Many (including the CEO) have only ever worked for Facebook. Lack of business experience must be a critical factor in the company, in my view. I remain to be convinced that Facebook has the skills, experience and the resources to deal with the issues they face.
What should businesses do about Facebook?
If you use Facebook, then you probably need to consider the potential reputational risk you are facing, as well as the GDPR issues if you promote your business on the network. You also need to consider how safe is the information about your business and is it being “harvested” and used in ways you cannot predict or even know about by companies like Cambridge Analytica.
So, perhaps you should move from Facebook to another social network. However, that is not as easy as it seems. This week Twitter announced a couple of significant changes to its system, it says to prevent “spam”. Essentially, these changes mean you cannot post the same information more than once. If, for instance, you use automated systems to promote your website content, repeating the Tweets at weekly intervals, then you will be infringing the new rules. Similarly, if all you do is post links to interesting material, then you will also be risking your account being terminated. Twitter wants you to use the system exactly as it was intended – for conversations. But to do that it means you will need to spend much more time on Twitter, crafting individual Tweets, rather than benefitting from automation. Quite how news organisations will fit in with the new rules remains to be seen because all they do is use Twitter to “broadcast” – and that is definitely against the new rules.
Twitter, therefore, is only going to be of value to you if you have the time to spend on it because the benefits of automated Tweeting are being eroded by the new rules. So, what about LinkedIn?
Well, LinkedIn also has problems. Since Microsoft bought it, the network has continued to decline in usage. It used to be in the Top 10 websites in the world; it is now at Number 30, having recovered a little in recent weeks from 34th in the world. OK, I admit, given that there are a couple of billion websites in existence that’s pretty good going. But the difference in traffic between the Top 10 and the next 20 is stark. Indeed, almost all the world’s website traffic goes to the Top 10 websites. In other words, LinkedIn is already starting to look like a fading star.
What does this mean for your business? With Facebook providing lower visibility to businesses anyway, its value was already questionable. Now, the latest revelations suggest that there are ramifications for businesses beyond just getting noticed. Elon Musk has clearly realised that. However, with Twitter and LinkedIn also having their own issues for business users, it leaves little real social media space for businesses to tap into. Either you are going to have to do what successful companies do on social networks and invest considerable resources in them, or you are going to need to consider alternatives.
It is always worthwhile remembering that the world’s first electronic social networks began with bulletin boards in 1978 – 40 years ago. Since then we have seen social networks come and go, such as Friendster, The Globe, AOL Messenger, Friends Reunited, as well as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. However, as those electronic networks have been developed, changed and, in some instances, died, there has been one thing that has been constant throughout those 40 years; the telephone. Calling people to promote your business, to sell and to find suppliers worked very well 40 years ago and it still works today. If Facebook bites the dust, if Twitter becomes unworkable for business and if LinkedIn fades into obscurity, your telephone can still be used to make calls.
Have we spent the past 40 years being diverted from a working business tool? Perhaps it is time to realise that your smartphone can make phone calls as well as send Tweets and Facebook messages. Or, if you don’t want to do that, then it is certainly time to revisit and reconsider your social media strategy.