With Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifying before Congress last week (perhaps the first and last time we’ll ever see him in a suit), it’s safe to say that the issue of social media user privacy is a poignant one.
Cambridge Analytica, the data analytics firm whose (now suspended) CEO took credit for Donald Trump’s presidential win in 2016, harvested Facebook data from 87 million of its users, most of which had never given their consent. The actions were performed leveraging what some deem to be extreme carelessness with user data by Facebook.
In a bid to demonstrate a shift in its behavior, Facebook implemented restrictions to the APIs for both Facebook and Instagram on March 30 — APIs that many third-party developers, including players in the influencer marketing industry, were relying on in order to support their products. Could this be the end of influencer marketing? Spoiler: I highly doubt it.
Facebook’s recent jump to the privacy extreme sparked slight panic in the industry. But I would argue this is a good thing. Any limitations placed on the already challenged digital space will only help alternative marketing channels grow. As if 600 million AdBlock users, complete banner overload and blindness, and a whole generation refusing to look at ads wasn’t enough, now advertisers on traditional channels won’t even be able to target at the same granularity as they used to.
These factors serve as rocket fuel to the already booming influencer marketing space, because unlike traditional digital marketing, Influencer Marketing is focused on aggregate audiences. A successful influencer campaign starts with identifying influential individuals (who are public figures by virtue of their effort to become social stars), and understanding their audience in aggregate. Influencer Marketing doesn’t violate anyone’s privacy because its consumption is made by active, interested audience members, based on their decision to follow a specific influencer. They are effectively opting into the content.
Despite the disruption in services, which I suspect will be short lived (and maybe last a week or two into the next scandal to take over headlines), Influencer Marketing professionals can find comfort in the fact that the key concern regarding Cambridge Analytica has to do with obtaining information without consent—for example, information about friends of users who have used an app. It’s safe to assume this information will no longer be available, making it harder for advertisers to leverage solutions that rely on such data, and driving them to solutions like Influencer Marketing that are one step removed.
Facebook is well aware of the difference between leaking individualized data that was obtained without permission, and sharing aggregated reports that do not impact any individual user’s privacy directly. Companies that do not rely on individual data have not been affected and I don’t expect they will.
We have to remember that Facebook’s main business driver is its ability to sell data or data related advertising to its customers. These businesses will not go away—they’ll find a new, proper balance, that protects the privacy of secondary users (who did not opt-in) while allowing Facebook to operate as a business. Influencer Marketing will continue to be one of the main beneficiaries.