Where’s the transparency?
Forget Cambridge Analytica – there is a much bigger social media scandal waiting to happen, writes Nick Lewis
One cannot switch on the news these days without another high-profile social media scandal breaking. While I don’t condone the behaviour of organisations such as Cambridge Analytica, I am somewhat surprised by the naivety of people generally. If you don’t pay for a service or a product, you are the service or product.
Of course, no one had a gun to their head when they inputted all their personal details into a social network such as Facebook and, hopefully, the Cambridge Analytica scandal will make people more circumspect about what they share online. For my part, as a consumer of and practitioner in social media, I hope it will improve the quality of what is actually shared online.
To my mind, the real social media scandal has yet to break, and like all good scandals it will evolve around transparency, honesty and money. For my clients (and myself) I produce detailed sets of analytics on the performance of social media channels. These analytics are compiled directly from the metrics supplied via the social networks in questions, as well as from software tools that integrate with social media platforms. However, all this information is supplied, one way or another, by the social networks themselves and, as far as I can make out, without any intendent oversight. So can this information really be trusted?
An old marketing joke used to go: “Only half of my marketing budget is highly effective – if only I knew which half!” Online and social media analytics were meant to remove that ambiguity. Theoretically, you should be able to tell how many people saw what post, when and where.
But if this information is supplied by the social networks themselves, are they really going to be an honest appraisal of how a social media platform is performing? A great myth is that social media marketing is free marketing, which is simply not true. Even if you don’t pay a social network (more on that later), to post to a social network requires time and effort on the behalf of someone in an organisation, and that is a business cost. Therefore, if either you or an employee is spending time in promoting a business on social media, you would want to have accurate information as to whether the marketing is effective and is performing as expected. Otherwise, it is good money after bad.
The issue becomes more acute when people actually pay social networks to boost individual social media posts or channels. Substantial amounts of money are paid by businesses so that their activity on social media is magnified and visible. Is the information that Facebook, Twitter et al supply in terms of return of that investment honest and transparent?
I have no evidence (bar anecdotal discussions with peers) that anything underhand or odd is going on. However, given recent revelations surround the social media giants and also the lack of clear, independent verification and auditing of social media performance data, I believe the onus is on the digital sector to create independent bodies to provide such oversight. The marketing and digital sector should look to abide by standards and processes that you find in other information driven sectors, such as finance… and accountancy.
- Nick Lewis offers social media support via www.nicklewiscommunications.com
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