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What Facebook’s “Privacy-First” Vision Could Mean for Advertisers and Brands

In light of ongoing privacy scandals and safety concerns, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently shared a 3000+ word post detailing his “Privacy-Focused Vision for Social Networking.” In the post, Zuckerberg reveals his future plans for a more private and personal social media experience, led by his empire of social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. This shifting mindset will suggest changes for both users and advertisers as we adapt to a new social media.

While many may be initially skeptical of this new vision - and believe it to be an attempt to save face and win back trust as opposed to a true pivot of their business model - advertisers should take notice of these possible updates nonetheless. Any potential shift in platform activity and user behavior needs to monitored closely for its impact on advertising costs and performance.

As the title of his post suggests, Zuckerberg envisions Facebook transforming into a more private, secure environment focused on 1-to-1 sharing, a stark contrast from the current “town square” environment that exists today. This push for a more intimate social network experience may elicit feelings of déjà vu from those who lamented the recent demise of Path, a private networking platform developed by former Facebook executive Dave Morin. Many felt that Path’s undoing was a shift away from intimacy in an attempt to stimulate growth.

Interestingly, Facebook’s ubiquity and the intense rounds of public and legislative scrutiny is requiring a revisit to the model that Morin embraced. Zuckerburg’s call for a “platform that focuses on all of the ways that people want to interact privately” has left advertisers wondering how these changes may influence them and the way they communicate with their customers and prospects.

Zuckerberg lays out a few core principles that will shape the future of a more privacy-focused platform:

  1. Private Interaction Zuckerberg’s new vision is centered around intimate 1:1 and small group communication & engagements will be the primary focus of this new vision. There will be an emphasis on giving users the ability to control who can communicate with them, and on keeping these communications private.
  2. Encryption End-to-end encryption of private content shared will only be visible to the parties involved. Facebook will not have visibility into this privately shared content. With all-encompassing encryption, the reality of a Facebook-owned cryptocurrency is much more feasible.
  3. Reducing Permanence Similar to SnapChat & Instagram stories, private messages & stories will exist temporarily. The lifespan of this information will most likely be up to the user’s preference.
  4. Safety The vaguest description of the six principles, Zuckerberg feels people should expect Facebook to keep them safe on the platform, within the limits of what’s possible with encryption.
  5. Interoperability Zuckerberg's grand scheme involves an interconnected web of communication across social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. This integration will lead to a seamless communication experience while encouraging potential new business opportunities around commerce.
  6. Secure data storage Sensitive data will become more secure, and Facebook’s data-centers will not be built in countries with a history of violating human rights such as privacy or freedom of expression. Zuckerberg acknowledges that this may mean that Facebook could be blocked in some countries, and added,  “That’s a tradeoff we’re willing to make”, and noted that “the best way to protect the most sensitive data is to not store it at all.”

How this may change advertising and marketing via Facebook

All of these principles seem reasonable, and for users, they’re probably a welcoming change. But make no mistake - Zuckerberg's post suggests a complete upheaval of the business model that has made Facebook a giant in the advertising space. The majority of Facebook's revenue is directly tied to selling highly targeted and relevant ads to specific groups of people that are gathered and categorized by information they have shared. Regardless of if users view additional measures to protect privacy as a welcome change, Facebook's decision to shift the focus of the platform to private and encrypted communication would drastically affect how advertisers are able to target specific audiences.

While there is nothing that brands and businesses need to act on right now, it is vital that all advertisers understand the implications that Zuckerberg's vision suggests and proactively plan for how his plan could come into fruition.

Here’s what we know right now:

  • There have been no specific announcements regarding immediate changes for advertisers.
  • Facebook will still be gathering data from users and presumably making this data available to advertisers to target and create audiences.
  • There is potential for new business services when considering the interoperability between platforms; these may include the expansion of commerce and the utilization of cryptocurrency.

Questions we still have:

  • What is going to happen to the newsfeed?
  • Will there still be a place for brands to have an organic presence on these social media channels?
  • How will businesses be able to target their desired audience segments?
  • Will viral sharing go extinct and if so, how might this affect brands?

Facebook made over $55 billion in revenue in 2018 – so it’s unlikely that Zuckerberg will make any large-scale changes that hinder the ability to sell advertisements and drive profit without a contingency plan. In the meantime, advertisers should begin asking themselves how their marketing efforts will be affected by this pivot, and consider:

  • How should marketers start diversifying their social media channel strategies?
  • How can brands better connect with their consumers on a 1:1 basis?
  • Preemptively, advertisers should begin utilizing existing tools like Facebook Messenger and Chatbots to understand these tactics and how they can be best used for their particular product or service.

As of now, we can take comfort in knowing that the proposed changes to Facebook’s product and service offerings (and maybe their entire business model) will take some time. In the post, Zuckerberg said the reorientation would take place “over the next few years”, giving advertisers ample time to pivot their own strategies accordingly. At a minimum, his vision for the future of social networking is an important reminder for businesses to begin working towards more personalized and meaningful communications with their customers in light of an ever-changing digital landscape.