Following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the #DeleteFacebook movement burst onto the scene but with very little to no real impact on the social media giant. Despite brands like Playboy and figures like Elon Musk taking up the moniker of Facebook deserters, overall there has been a distinct lack of backlash from the masses. Instead, Facebook’s shares ironically climbed by 4.5% as Mark Zuckerberg began to testify on the scandal.
However, there is an increase in distrust from the public, celebrities and businesses alike, with whistleblowers coming out left and right to highlight just how much information companies like Facebook and Google have on all of us (really… you only just figured that out?). In fact, the distrust following the data mining revelations is so prevalent that brands like Unilever, a conglomerate comprised of household names like Magnum and Persil, have threatened to pull their ad budget. Just yesterday Wetherspoons announced their departure from social media entirely! Announcing, funnily enough, on Twitter that they would be stepping down from social media platforms due to concerns regarding the "misuse of personal data" and "the addictive nature of social media". It may not be earth-shattering, but there is a shift happening.
Some influential figures in the technology world have spoken out about the scandal themselves. CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, spoke on the situation when asked what he would do, should he be in it, by saying: “I wouldn’t be in this situation.” Later going on to say: “If our customer was our product, we could make a ton of money,” Cook said. “We’ve elected not to do that.” However, Apple famously takes a different approach to data protection, with a recently leaked memo highlighting the measures it goes to in order to prevent staff and partners from sharing company sensitive information.
Zuckerberg had little to say about Cook’s comments, simply stating that they were ‘extremely glib.’ In fact, many have been quick to say that they think Zuckerberg has come across as generally unaffected by the controversy; and perhaps that is quite telling of someone who isn’t overly worried.
Looking to the future, it’s highly unlikely that Facebook will disappear, most are saying that the social media and it’s 2.2 billion users worldwide are too big to be seriously impacted by the revelations. However, how will they regain the trust of the public and more importantly the people who spend money on their platform? Could the answer be its sister platform Instagram?
Facebook bought over Instagram back in 2012 for $1 billion when it was made up of only 13 employees. The photo-sharing app now has 700 employees and a whole bunch of new features. What was once a relatively smaller, artsy app, used for showing off photography skills, has now become a massive storytelling and personal brand building platform. It’s also worth noting that Facebook bought over messaging app WhatsApp in 2014 for $19 billion. This app is now also under scrutiny following Cambridge Analytica, with France opting to build an equivalent due to security concerns and criticism of the new photo recovery feature, which highlights that data is being stored much longer than previously thought. Surprisingly, WhatsApp founder Brian Acton has joined the #DeleteFacebook movement, tweeting simply “It’s time. #DeleteFacebook”. Despite this, Facebook has spoken out to assure worried users that their messages cannot be interceeded by other parties. However, this is just another sign that the public are distrustful. Going back to Instagram, from stories to its very own non-chronological feed to those in the know, it’s clear that this isn’t the app it used to be. It may surprise you, but unlike WhatsApp, a lot of people don’t actually know that Facebook owns Instagram, and Facebook is more than happy to keep it that way.
If you’re someone who advertises on social media, and specifically Facebook, you are more than likely going to be aware of this, with Facebook and Instagram paid content running from the same ads manager. Facebook implemented their own advertising business model with Instagram and in result, the app now contributes to 18% of Facebook’s annual revenue. Facebook and Instagram are well and truly integrated into a well oiled, money-making machine. But, from the view of the general public, this is not something they are overly aware of and this might end up being the key to Facebook’s ongoing success.
Signups for Instagram are rising, in fact, at the end of 2017 there were 800 million users recorded, it’s likely that this year they will break the 1 billion mark, something very few social media platforms do. This is the influence that Facebook has had on the app. There are now 25 million businesses using Instagram and a large portion of them are likely to be pumping ad budget into Facebook’s ad manager, according to the Motely Fool it’s estimated that Instagram brought in $4 billion in revenue in 2017 and this is only set to increase. With users of Facebook more aware of what is being advertised to them following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Instagram is looking like a more covert option.
The audience on Instagram is mostly younger than Facebook’s with the platform being used mainly by 18 to 29-year-olds, which is a big plus for many advertisers and for marketers. The younger demographic is more likely to buy through social and is generally more active online than their parents. However, with the younger demographic being more aware of Facebook’s current situation and what it means for their data and privacy, it could make them more likely to delete their profile and not engage with its content; resulting in following generations who are less likely to sign up for it. Meaning Facebook’s audience could start dwindling in time.
There is a chance that Zuckerberg has had other platforms in the back of his mind as a second resort, should things go south with Facebook. Just last week, amidst Zuckerberg’s enquiry, Instagram announced a new in-app focus feature, allowing those with lower quality cameras on their phones to take images that rival a DSLR. Taking a little of the limelight away from the negativity swirling around Facebook and shifting it onto the photo app, highlighting to the public that this is an easy-going, artsy and friendly app, providing you with the tools to make the most of it and take beautiful images. With Facebook’s meme and fake news overloaded news feeds, to the public, Instagram is a welcome escape.
Despite Facebook generally being somewhere to connect with family and friends, the feed on Instagram seems almost more personal, with the ability to see into the lives of celebrities and influencers that you hand pick, share things you have created and almost put a filter on your life. Instagram is celebrated as a great way to keep up with people, be yourself and share what you’re interested in. It does have downsides like the lack of link inclusion, however, that is something that we will likely see remedied in the future. We have seen growth in the app already with the inclusion of stories. Stories were so widely celebrated when they were introduced to Instagram that it turned many a head in the Snapchat loyalist club, despite it being almost an exact copy initially. Instagram is also a loved platform by celebrities, making it even more desirable for many, with some influencers able to sustain themselves on paid for ads from an Instagram career alone. There’s plenty of money to be made and spent on this platform. Something the heads at Facebook are more than aware of. However, Facebook’s involvement with Instagram is only ever mentioned when convenient, like with advertisers, overall the platforms are kept and regarded separately. Could a potential scandal like this be the reason why? Has Instagram always been Facebook’s escape pod?
With Facebook now owning the 1st and the 3rd largest social media companies in the world (WeChat in China coming in 2nd), it’s not hard to imagine that, if Facebook cannot be recovered in full, Zuckerberg will quietly shift focus onto its successor Instagram. The lack of knowledge from the public regarding the association between the two companies is certainly something that will play in favour should this happen, but only time will tell...