What’s going to happen with doing business via Facebook and other social media?

Digital Marketing

Shana Bull is a marketing educator and digital storyteller, working with wine, food, hospitality businesses, teaching classes on marketing, and freelance writing. Reach her with your questions about digital marketing at shana@shanabull.com, @sharayray on Instagram or at shanabull.com.

Read Shana’s past columns.

When it comes to digital marketing, Facebook and Instagram may monopolize our budgets and time — but there is more that marketers can focus on.

In early October, Facebook (parent company now called Meta) and their other platforms, Instagram, Oculus, and WhatsApp, went down for over six hours. Yes, individuals and businesses could access Twitter, LinkedIn, email, Slack, Zoom, or TikTok to connect with their communities. But let’s be frank — people used a few of those platforms to whine about Facebook being down.

Some marketers wanted to go back to business as usual, hoping to put the outage in their rearview mirror. But others saw the risks of relying on one platform or company too much. That day made some marketers, including myself, admit what we already knew on some level: we deeply rely on these two platforms to connect with consumers.

Too deeply.

As a digital marketer for the past 12 years, I know better.

If all of your eggs are in one basket, then you are not able to connect with your customers when something goes wrong (like a half-day long outage, or rampant misinformation souring a platform’s users).

As marketers, we don’t “own” access to our customers on these platforms; we are renting this space from Mark Zuckerburg (or from the owners of Twitter, TikTok, etc.).

At the same time as the outage, articles based on internal Facebook documents were released through national news outlets — documents showing how Facebook’s own reports demonstrated that Instagram negatively impacts teenaged girls’ mental health, and yet the company did little to nothing to combat this until very recently.

A few weeks later, more internal files were shared. Dubbed the Facebook Papers, these internal reports revealed their awareness of the depth of the misinformation, radicalization, and enabling (to put it nicely) their platforms promote. And, on top of that, they showed that Facebook knows how to fix it, yet has chosen profits over their customers time and time again.

Read more from The Press Democrat (“People or profit? Facebook Papers show deep conflict within”) and the Washington Post (“Five points for anger, one for a ‘like’: How Facebook’s formula fostered rage and misinformation”) to get a better picture of the sheer magnitude of this dangerous problem.

Moving forward, there is no easy solution to these problems on Facebook.

Connecting through Facebook

Even so, the connections that are created and sustained through these social platforms are real. I met my husband and many friends through these apps, and I have continued to shout to the rooftops the importance of interpersonal relationships in social media marketing.

The North Bay area has developed an additional dependence on social media since 2017: using it as a tool for businesses and individuals to let others know if they are safe. Facebook groups can provide details on shelters, missing pets, and the ways others can provide aid. Sarah Stierch (a freelance writer who has written for Sonoma Magazine, among many others) has a Twitter account that provides more factual information about fires than the majority of news outlets in the area.

Our relationship with social media often feels like a double-edged sword. It brings us together through shared experiences and interests, but it also has the potential to spread hatred and lies with astonishing speed.

I talked with a few others in the North Bay digital marketing world, and they tend to share my point of view. While they don’t see Facebook and Instagram going away any time soon, they note that previously unforeseen changes seem to be on the horizon. Since we are not sure what will happen with Meta (fka Facebook), digital marketers should be thinking about other ways to connect with their target audiences outside of the rented space on these platforms.

Moving into the metaverse

As users grow weary of Facebook, Instagram, and social media platforms in general, I wanted to talk to other digital marketers about how they are weathering the storm when it comes to working with these social platforms with their clients.

Here is some advice from other digital marketers:

  • Martha Cromer, co-founder and chief marketing officer at Suited Hospitality (suitedhospitality.com): “Businesses need to ensure they are focusing on other digital channels to reach customers. This could be email marketing (which can still be very effective), SMS programs, and Google Ads and My Business, as well as focusing on other social channels, like Pinterest.”
  • Taylor Eason, principal at Cork & Fork Digital Media (corkandforkmedia.com): “As an agency specializing in food and wine brands, Cork & Fork Digital Media spreads our efforts around in the digital space, testing and iterating on many different platforms, not only to minimize risk in case Facebook and Instagram are taken down, but also to reach a wider audience. We’ve been weaving Google products, SMS/text marketing, and advanced email techniques into our digital marketing mix as Facebook and Instagram solve their challenges.”

I also talked to Kerry Rego (kerryrego.com), social media trainer, technology consultant, author, and educator at Sonoma State University. Our discussion focused on speculation on what might happen next when it comes to how people use social media in general.

Many in the industry had previously suspected a lot of what was in the leaked documents and whistleblower testimony. Though it's not surprising to learn the truth behind what Facebook has been up to, it's still hard to read the sheer quantity of violations in black and white.

People used to ask me what I thought the next big thing would be after Facebook. I would say, "There is no one tool that will take Facebook down. It's up to the federal government to dismantle and regulate."

How will that happen?

First, legislators need to be educated so they truly understand what they're dealing with. They don't have an official technology advisory board, so they regularly embarrass themselves with their lack of knowledge of social media’s most elementary foundations.

The next step is to write legislation in the form of bills; those must then be passed into law. An enforcement agency needs to be created, staff needs to be trained, and they then need to hold Meta (and other digital media companies) accountable. This is a multi-year process.

It is evident that there is no quick fix to Facebook’s issues, nor to our dependence on it and similar platforms as digital marketers. But by building awareness of the company’s activities and by diversifying our methods for connecting with others, we can become more self-sufficient and empowered as marketers, brands, and people.

Digital Marketing

Shana Bull is a marketing educator and digital storyteller, working with wine, food, hospitality businesses, teaching classes on marketing, and freelance writing. Reach her with your questions about digital marketing at shana@shanabull.com, @sharayray on Instagram or at shanabull.com.

Read Shana’s past columns.

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