Like cigarette smoking, social media use has proven to be addictive. Yet it’s much easier to say “no” to nicotine than to eschew all online chatter. The world runs not just on designer juices and caffeinated everything but on real-time news, analysis, and opinions. Ducking out from under social media’s umbrella takes deliberate energy; most people stay dry under its cover.
Marketers know that the majority of consumers live online. So we push products, services, and announcements out through paid ads, organic content, social media influencers, and other means. But this process is becoming tougher in an era fraught with social media censorship, regulation, and privacy concerns.
As globally popular as Facebook, YouTube, and the other biggies are, their CEOs and companies recently have faced intense backlash. Though their services aren’t causing lung cancer, they are affecting everything from teens’ healthy self-images to international election results. At TED2019, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey promised to fight abuse through stronger algorithms and monitoring that could detect harassment and bullying faster. Similarly, Instagram is experimenting with a design that de-emphasises a page’s number of likes to put less focus on social validation and competition.
That’s a good start. But marketers will find it murky to navigate what’s coming down the pike: full-blown censorship.
Marketing fallout when social gets censored
Social media is ready-fire-aim capitalism in action. Tech companies split test mercilessly to see what sticks. Then, they backpedal to fill in gaps with knee-jerk solutions. But sometimes the innovation obsession prevents them from seeing the forest for the trees. And sometimes users tragically take the platform to places it was never meant to go, like the live murder that hit Facebook.
At the time, Facebook said it couldn’t make the system airtight against such egregious outcomes. But it promised progress. Two years later, the company’s progress under Mark Zuckerberg’s leadership seems to be the act of removing content at will. Political posts and rants have been taken down without warning, leaving some subscribers without a voice. News stories that don’t fit certain slants have also been buried. The United States White House has vowed to collect data from silenced people and organisations, which the American government says goes against freedom of speech.
Here’s the bottom line, though: Facebook is a private company. Users sign away some rights to be a part of the system. This means Facebook has every right to censor its news feeds. And you know what? As frustrating as it is, Facebook has the right to be biased and game its tech algorithms as long as it doesn’t violate data security legislation or the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation.
So if Zuck wants to promote fake news, he can. And as marketers and publishers, we have to acknowledge and accept that it’s Facebook’s platform, not ours.
For instance, most content marketing experts decree that no matter how often Facebook changes its algorithm, not every ad, live event, or group will be ghosted. There will always be a place for favorable short-form and long-form content; writing for audiences will never go out of style. The key for marketers is to take steps to stay ahead of the censorship process to avoid being flagged, buried, or removed from the social media platforms we work so hard on.
But how do you do that? Start with these three guiding principles:
Put a high price on never-ending education
However much money you spend on the development of your publishers is probably not enough. The only way to remain relevant is through serious education and passion for improvement. Everyone involved in a digital marketing company should be prepared to pivot at a moment’s notice. Fortunately, leaders seem to understand this. 68% of grads from a well-respected global management development program cited the advancement of technology as a primary concern for success.
Put a premium on your own digital real estate
If a company can build a bustling website or sticky mobile app, it can control the conversation despite censorship on other platforms. Big tech’s algorithm changes will never affect your ability to email your subscriber list. Companies that provide a valuable, self-owned community experience pay far less “big tech tax” than the average publisher.
Feel obligated to your audience, not entitled to a platform
Twitter and Facebook owe advertisers very little. Those companies will continue to grow and morph as needed to run their businesses, just like you and yours. In 20 years, Facebook might not even be a social platform; Google is a car company now, after all. Besides, newspapers that once jerked around advertisers learned that reader loyalty is fleeting; social media sites will be no different. Marketers need to investigate new processes. The way to disrupt and win will be to adopt a fresh, positive mindset rather than devolve into unproductive hand-wringing.
As frustrating as censorship can be, it looks like it’s here to stay on social media. With that in mind, marketing leaders must resist getting trapped in the noise and must seek out ways to get the job done — with or without the help of social platforms.