In focus: The Facebook news you didn’t hear about

by Sam Stevenson

6th March 2019

It doesn’t feel like the week has started until you read some negative press for Facebook. A glance at the last week’s press sees the social media behemoth under fire in The Guardian for the conditions in which it makes content moderators work in—the people tasked with keeping violence, hate speech and sexual imagery off its platforms. They’re given minimal pay and have been likened to call centre workers with short, enforced breaks. Workers are reported to be developing symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to the nature of their work.

It doesn’t end there. The Guardian is also reporting misuses of user data, while various outlets are repeating calls by Parliament for a thorough investigation into Facebook’s use of data. “So then,” we here you say, “a standard week of press for Facebook, then?” Stories such as these are almost so ubiquitous across the British media, we’ve started to become immune.

Despite all the bad press, all the mistrust, two things remain: users continue to use the platform, advertisers continue to advertise. Facebook made over $55.8 billion in revenue in 2018, with advertising revenue increasing 37% on 2017. There’s a strange disconnect between the way the brand is perceived and the revenue it makes. It seems to take a hell of a lot to even dent Facebook’s performance.

Among the minefield of stories keeping our former Deputy PM busy in his new role, a seemingly inconsequential, industry-focused piece flew under the radar. All Facebook advertising campaigns will be migrated to the platform’s automated campaign budget allocation system.

Stop the press!

Unsurprisingly, this news didn’t grab the column inches that more scandalous stories have received. It was covered by some digital industry outlets, but there was nothing in the mainstream media. While it may seem techy and complicated at first glance, it’s an incredibly significant and disruptive change—far more important to the way Facebook makes its money.

So, what does this mean in layman’s terms? Currently, an advertiser on Facebook has a lot more manual control on how they spread their budget across different audiences in their ad campaigns. The campaign budget optimisation tool has been an optional feature since 2017. The move to make it compulsory, which will affect all advertisers and their campaigns, puts more control within the automated system of the platform.

Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. Facebook’s algorithm will optimise towards the best performing audience, in theory giving advertisers the cheapest cost-per-action. Creating cost efficiencies can’t be scoffed at.

What’s more, this movement towards a more efficient, automated system makes it easier to create campaigns. There are less nuts and bolts to deal with when setting up ads. This means more campaigns, more advertisers, and – most importantly for old Zuck – more revenue.

Seems good for everyone then? Easy money! It’s not quite that simple. Some campaigns require a certain amount of manual control. Marketers who are well versed in the platform would rather have the option to do it themselves than see it taken away. Learning how to spot value and create efficient campaigns is, after all, how many of them have made their careers. However, the industry is ever-changing. Any digital marketer worth their salt will be adaptive to these changes.

There is a great irony in this story. The new way requires a certain level of faith in Facebook’s algorithm and, dare I say it, trust in Facebook to deliver efficient results. Do marketers trust Facebook? Not really.

Does it matter? Not really. The wheels keep turning.

No one trusts Facebook, but everyone uses it. Like so many other behemoth brands, it takes more than bad press and even pressure from national governments to shift perceptions. Whilst these stories pull focus, actions are being made that gain little coverage but have significant consequences.

For digital marketing professionals working with the platform daily, it is even more important to analyse and interrogate these under-the-radar moves than the front-page scandals. After all, Facebook will continue to be controversial, but will also continue to be an important platform for brands and advertisers across the world.