RALLY’s Hot Take: Don’t Unfriend Facebook Just Yet

By Sam Read

Facebook’s hotly anticipated annual developer conference, F8, kicks off tomorrow, May 1. It’s happening in the immediate aftermath of months of news that made clear both Facebook’s omnipresence in our culture and lives, and some of the challenges that omnipresence brings to the fore. Those challenges touch on privacy, data ownership, and the integrity of the information that fuels our democracy, among other key issues.

RALLY’s work in the issue advocacy space often leverages Facebook as a critical tool on behalf of clients. In many ways, we have seen Facebook as a platform for social good over the years. Organizations and campaigns like the ones we work with have used it to grow their following and communicate with thousands of people who otherwise might not have known about them or their important work.

As a progressive firm, we have been watching and working through how to align the information that has come to light with ours and our clients’ values, and the reality that Facebook remains a platform where millions of people in the US and around the world connect, get information, and are mobilized to act. If we care about winning for progressive causes and social good — and we do care, that’s why we’re here — unfriending Facebook isn’t a viable option.

So, while we worry about the implications of everything from the Cambridge Analytica scandal, to Fake News, to the role played by what Mark Zuckerberg called ‘bad actors’ in the 2016 election (specifically Russian misinformation campaigns), to the negative impact using Facebook can have on users’ mental health, to even the role hate speech on the platform may have played in the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar — we remain focused on figuring out how to responsibly counsel our clients to continue to leverage the platform in order to change the world for the better.

Here’s where we’re landing:

1.Tactically, “reach” is getting more difficult: Earlier this year Facebook rolled out their latest update to the way they display content on your news feed. Organic, or unpaid reach on Facebook pages has been falling for years, but now Facebook has made it even more difficult. As a response to the dissemination of fake news and negative content, Facebook has changed their algorithm to show people more content in their news feed simply from their family and friends, rather from the pages of companies, campaigns, and organizations.

While perhaps commendable as an effort to truly change the way Facebook affects people’s lives, there’s another effect of these news feed changes: Facebook has now essentially become a “pay-to-play” platform for advertisers and brands, including the community organizations, non-profits, and causes like the ones RALLY works with, who have relied on Facebook’s free access in order to reach supporters and build their base.

Gone are the days of posting a status update about an important policy decision your organization has achieved and reaching even 20% of the people who “Like” your page — organic posts on Facebook pages have seen unpaid reach fall as much as 60–70% in the last few months. Facebook wants you to pay to “boost” posts now as the only reliable way your audience will see your content.

We’ve been working with our clients on succeeding in this new reality. Between using small advertising budgets efficiently, to building Facebook groups around issues and leveraging organizations’ grassroots networks, we’ve had to get innovative in the ways we’re helping our clients reach their audience.

2.Increased transparency is a good thing: One of our specialties at RALLY is designing efficient advertising campaigns for our clients and helping causes and campaigns use their marketing budgets reach the right audience, with the right message, at the right time. So we’ve been watching Facebook’s efforts to update their “political” and “issue” advertising policies with a close eye. Starting in the next few months, advertisers with electoral or political issue-based ads will have to get “verified” by Facebook before they can run ads. On their Facebook page you’ll be able to see what ads the page is running, how much they’ve spent on those ads, and some demographic information on the audience. This will go a long way towards informing users about who is advertising to them, and how.

At RALLY we’re proud of the organizations we work with and the ways in which we help them reach their supporters through Facebook advertising, so we aren’t concerned about these changes. In fact, we welcome them. But this new level of transparency will definitely be an adjustment for many advertisers who use less kosher targeting and advertising methods.

3.Facebook is taking important steps: Although their changes to their news feed algorithm and their advertising policies might present new challenges to our work, we believe in the motivations behind these changes. It may have taken widespread outrage and consternation to trigger them, but the fact that they’re finally being made is a step in the right direction.

4. Facebook remains a highly effective advertising platform for good reasons: There’s no doubt that some of the ways Facebook lets advertisers target users can seem a little creepy. The fact that it knows, for example, which of its users are renters, interested in social justice issues, living in a specific zip code, and making a certain income, can be a little concerning. But that doesn’t make it inherently bad. That same sophisticated targeting allows us to reach these people with a message that they wouldn’t hear otherwise, breaking through traditional gatekeepers unconcerned with their interests, and empower them to take action within their own community alongside the community groups already doing important work. Facebook’s business model is built on knowing its users, so we do our best to use that knowledge for good: to inspire and activate people to learn and take action on the issues that affect them most.

5.Facebook isn’t going anywhere: Despite periodic and short-lived #DeleteFacebook campaigns, Facebook is still the largest and most widely-used social media platform here in America. At RALLY, we fight for issues, causes, and campaigns we believe in. To do that, we have to do what we do best: help our clients communicate with their audiences and drive action to achieve a legacy of positive change. Facebook is going to remain an important avenue for doing that, and so we’ll continue to advise and work with our clients to leverage Facebook’s platform for good.

RALLY is an issue-driven communications firm that takes on sticky political and social problems and finds ways to push them forward. Sam Read is a Digital Account Executive based out of RALLY’s Los Angeles office.