The Facebook boycott, spearheaded by the Stop Hate for Profit movement, has attracted the support of over 500 global brands including the likes of adidas, Unilever, Starbucks, Coca-Cola and Microsoft. Facebook may be facing the biggest corporate boycott in its history right now, but the sad truth is that even this is not enough to drive real and lasting change. The only thing it’s telling me is that brand trust remains at an all time low.
I’m not totally convinced that the people at the top really think about the meaning or reason behind what is going on. There’s only a handful of brands actually taking the boycott seriously. Unfortunately, with the majority of those involved, there is more than likely an element of tokenism, with many brands joining the movement simply because they feel that they have to - it’s done for show. Subsequently, if we look at the behaviour of some of these companies or organisations, it doesn’t necessarily demonstrate that they are actually supportive of the cause.
If this sort of movement is going to make a difference, a seismic change needs to happen. It’s not enough to cut spend in just one location, such as Unilever pulling spend solely out of North America, or for a short period, such as those who have opted to stop advertising on Facebook for the month of July only. If you’re serious about this, why not boycott your spend across the globe until Facebook gets its house in order? If you look at the numbers of those not advertising on Facebook right now, the amount isn’t huge in the big scale of things. So it means nothing right now. The only time it’s ever going to mean something, is if it hurts a brand by challenging its values and trust - because then it becomes a principle. If it’s not hurting a brand, it’s just hyperbole.
On the flip side, many other brands will actually be spending more money on Facebook right now. In climates such as these, media is a lot cheaper so it’s a way for brands to gain a significant advantage against their competitors. It’s particularly relevant right now while we have people sitting at home online, watching TV and listening to the radio more. You’ve got a totally captive audience and that’s perfect for advertisers, so when it all balances out, Facebook hasn’t really been hit by any significant loss....yet.
I think the arrogance of Facebook is astonishing. They’re a media channel like any other, and you have to be responsible for the stuff you put out there. If you’re not, you should be challenged for your ethical practices. It’s not about getting in the way of free speech, it’s about confronting hate speech. The question is whether social media brands should have the ability to be free speech led. And I don’t know if they should, because at the moment they’re not being used for good. I think industry bodies like Ofcom and their counterparts should have authority over these channels like they do with others. And The World Federation of Advertisers should recommend to all of their clients not to advertise on Facebook when it’s not safe or right to do so. If they collaborated like that it would make a massive difference. And it’s only when they’re in danger like this, that Facebook may change.
The second issue with achieving lasting effects from the Facebook boycott is that there is no feasible alternative to the platform at the moment. So despite the fact that no one actually trusts them with their data or security, they’re still going to return to Facebook because no one has come up with a better, trustworthier option. But the good news is that once we have that alternative available to brands, we’ll see them and consumers jump ship immediately. Because as soon as you do something that causes trust to be severed, it’s very hard to get it back again - loyalty is about meaningful connection and with more and more brands out there, brands must put their consumers first.
The majority of brands don’t have great relationships with their media platforms. Being responsible for governing themselves, means that a lot of these social platforms have evaded stepping up to the plate in the last few years. If these platforms are ever going to rebuild a brand’s trust and gain back loyalty, now is the perfect opportunity for them to prove that they are willing to change - that they need flexibility, transparency, and innovation.
That’s the number one way to build trust: giving brands complete transparency and control over their data. When you have an open relationship such as this, there’s no hiding. The truth is accessible and therefore, there is no reason not to trust anymore. What brands want is transparency and honesty. And because the likes of Facebook aren’t willing to change this anytime soon, they’re at huge risk of losing everyone as soon as we have a better option.
As for the boycott, my fear is that the momentum will sadly peter out. Let’s see what happens in a few months’ time. Let’s see who is still holding their stance on the movement and truly trying to support the cause. As I said earlier, this needs to be challenged worldwide, and it’ll take a lot longer than just a month or so for Facebook to feel the effects. If your effort doesn’t hurt your brand, it’s not a principle and you’re not doing enough.