Does Boycotting Social Media Work?
So a number of brands have pulled out of advertising on Facebook. And given Facebook’s obstinate refusal to deal with right-wing hate speech on their platform, you can expect those brands to continue not advertising on Facebook for the foreseeable.
More than that, they might never come back.
After all, how better to test the impact of not advertising on a platform than not advertising on a platform. Those brands that have made a big noise about not advertising on a platform are those who will shift their awareness budget somewhere else.
In the meantime, the 75% of advertisers on Facebook who sell Alibaba products to dog walkers in Illinois will carry on feeding the monster, and Facebook will survive, along with your racist uncle and his Leave UK posts.
So the question, I guess, is – does boycotting social media work?
The answer as always is – yes, of course it does, if you say so.
Consider the cases of Coca Cola, Ben & Jerry and the majority of big brands now boycotting Facebook. They will have allocated funds towards awareness across a wide range of media, Facebook being one. With those funds freed up, they’ll simply push the awareness somewhere else – or they’ll save the money.
But more importantly, they will have the kudos of saying that they don’t like what your racist uncle is posting on Facebook, and that’s great brand positioning, too. If anything, the Facebook ad ban is a massive PR coup for the advertisers, who manage both to save some money they were perhaps wasting, and earn some airtime through taking a stance.
So if you’re hoping for those two particular things, stop advertising on Facebook right now. You might find out you were inefficient with your money, and you’ll get some kudos that will far outweigh the potential return you would have made from advertising in the first place. It’s an absolute no-brainer, so long as you make some noise about it.
The reality for most of us, however, is a little more nuanced. Of course, we don’t want our brand to be associated with whatever your racist uncle has posted (apologies to your uncle if he is not racist, but it’s just a stereotype). Neither do we want to lose out on the potential revenue that Facebook does bring us. Because, for many lesser-known brands, Facebook is a fantastic way of reaching audiences that we couldn’t reach otherwise.
It’s no secret that Cambridge Analytica cracked the code when they decided to manipulate voters in the UK and the US through Facebook. They were classic marketers, and they won as a result. They A/B tested, they created lookalike audiences, they used lookalike brands – in many respects, you have to take your hat off to them. Apart from the breaking the law bit, they were onto something.
You may or may not like what they did, but they took advantage of an ad platform that gives us access to very precise demographics. This is why your Facebook and Instagram feeds are full of such alluring adverts these days – the data they have amassed on you and your buying behaviour is enormously powerful.
If I’m selling cycling jerseys, I’d want to target a MAMIL like me – and this partly explains why I’m constantly bombarded with messages about cycling jerseys, bib shorts, and anything else to do with road bikes. The platform is tailor-made for dropshippers, but it’s also tailor-made for anyone who wants to speak to a very specific type of person.
75% of Facebook’s advertisers are small to medium-sized businesses, and without the level of detail and accessibility that Facebook gives you for targeting, where else do you go? Twitter? Don’t joke around. The visibility and the ability to create significant brand awareness within your target market is something marketers have dreamed of for years. Gone is the scattergun approach of direct mail and print advertising, now we’re laser-targeted at low prices.
The ultimate question for most businesses, then is this: is there any upside to not advertising on Facebook for you?
And the ultimate answer, as many have concluded, is “no”.
Mark Zuckerberg may be about $7bn lighter as a result of the ban, and we would all implore him to do more to tackle hate speech on his platform. Major brands taking a stance may hurt in the short-term, but in these difficult times – can everyone afford to take this stance?
Unless there are better options out there, the answer is “no”, and people will carry on advertising on Facebook, because it works for them.
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