Timing is everything.
As the drum beat for companies to pause ad spend on Facebook grows stronger (this week more brands have hopped on the #StopHateForProfit July boycott), the social platform made a curious move: letting advertisers spend on Instagram without having a Facebook account.
In a blog post on Monday, the company said:
You can now create Instagram ads without having a presence on Facebook. If you are promoting a post from your Instagram business account for the first time, you won’t have to connect to a Facebook ad account or Facebook Page.
At this time, you can’t connect your Instagram account to a Facebook ad account. You’ll be able to manage your ad campaign and track ad performance on Instagram. You won’t need to manage your Instagram ads on Facebook Ads Manager.
According to Adweek, Facebook “said the new option is unrelated to calls to boycott advertising on Facebook over its role in the spreading of hate and misinformation, adding that it has been testing the feature for several months.”
Axios reports today that Facebook has a trust problem.
But the boycotts are still a public relations problem for Facebook, which could use all of the industry support it can get leading up to the election.
I am genuinely curious where today’s trust issues rank in terms of past Facebook trust issues. The phrase “fool me once shame on you; fool me twice shame on me” rings in my jello brain. We’ve been down this road before with Cambridge, with fake video metrics, with privacy issues. It’s been a never-ending apology tour.
One way to handle a PR crisis: put on a fresh coat of paint. Over the last year or so, Facebook has been working to unify its companies—Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp, Instagram, Portal—under one architecture.
From a Jan 2019 New York Times piece:
The move has the potential to redefine how billions of people use the apps to connect with one another while strengthening Facebook’s grip on users, raising antitrust, privacy and security questions. It also underscores how Mr. Zuckerberg is imposing his authority over units he once vowed to leave alone.
Internal politics aside, the company has brought all the companies under the Facebook umbrella for a variety of reasons. Efficiency, sure, but also to get out in front of regulators, if not investigators. Putting everything in one encrypted system, where the only people who can read messages are those part of the conversation, means that Facebook can shrug when law enforcement knocks on its door investigating crimes or suspicious behavior from users.
Functionality-wise, Facebook’s unification system can help users across its businesses communicate better. Engadget reported in March, after a revamped Messenger hit iOS:
More importantly, the redesign lays important groundwork for other big changes that will fundamentally change the way you use Messenger, namely Facebook's plan to bring all of its messaging into a single experience. The company also suggests that the new version helps move the app a little closer toward its goal of adding encryption to Messenger chats by default, though it's unclear exactly how. For now, those remain longer term goals. Zuckerberg has made clear that cross-app messaging isn't coming any time soon, and the company recently confirmed its encryption plans are still years away.
Beyond the infrastructure, the company has rebranded all of its businesses under the Facebook imprimatur, slapping a “from Facebook” brand under each brand’s name.
According to an August 2019 Wall Street Journal piece, the move had both its supporters and detractors:
A recurring conclusion of Facebook’s marketing research was that Instagram and WhatsApp were harmed by their association with Facebook’s brand, according to someone familiar with the results of the research. The effect wasn’t subtle: When Instagram users were told of Facebook’s ownership of Instagram and asked their opinion of Instagram, they rated the platform lower than when Instagram’s connection with Facebook wasn’t made, the person said.
Supporters of the change believed that stitching the brands together could help burnish the Facebook brand, which has been beset by challenges stemming from myriad controversies around user privacy and misinformation.
Having all of the Facebook brands on the same infrastructure poses significant questions about the company’s ability to spot how misinformation spreads. Which would be helpful, as Judd Legum’s Popular Information newsletter explains in today’s must-read through the lens of Daily Caller founder Ben Shapiro.
Popular Information has discovered a network of large Facebook pages — each built by exploiting racial bias, religious bigotry, and violence — that systematically promote content from The Daily Wire. These pages, some of which have over 2 million followers, do not disclose a business relationship with The Daily Wire. But they all post content from The Daily Wire ten or more times each day. Moreover, these pages post the exact same content from The Daily Wire at the exact same time.
The undisclosed relationship not only helps explain The Daily Wire's unlikely success on Facebook but also appears to violate Facebook's rules.
The kicker here is that Shapiro’s network pays to promote these pages. In a closed system, how do you prevent bad-faith actors from manipulating algorithms to spread “incendiary” content and promote divisiveness to tens of millions of people?
And what happens when you throw the ability to buy things right off the platforms without ever leaving? Facebook introduced last year a payment system that cuts across all its apps without having to leave each app.
Reuters reported in November:
Facebook said the new service will collect user information such as payment method, date, billing and contact details when a transaction is made and that it would use the data to show targeted advertisements to users.
Another advantage of tying all the apps together: advertising. Which brings us back to Facebook’s decision to allow advertisers to not have a Facebook presence in order to advertise on Instagram.
This seems to fly in the face of what it’s been doing for the last 2 years. SocialMedia Today writes:
Still, it's hard to imagine any other logic behind the option, especially, as noted, given Facebook has pushed advertisers towards linking their Facebook and Instagram presences for so long. There are significant benefits for Facebook in establishing such links, including improved data tracking, targeting benefits, integrated functionality, etc. Splitting them seems like a lot more back-end work - but then again, maybe Facebook is simply looking to ensure that it's able to maximize ad dollars by removing Facebook Page connection as a requirement.
As we discussed recently, Facebook’s power is that its ad technology works. Companies greatly benefit from using it, and it's a hard decision for many corporations to decide between doing what’s best for society and what’s best for their bottom line.
In the meantime, TikTok, which continues to fly under the corporate radar, introduced its marketing solution for brands today. What could go wrong?
John Prine, “Blue Umbrella”
Some interesting links:
LeBron James Gets $100 Million Investment to Build Media Empire (Bloomberg)
Why Did the Washington Post Get This Woman Fired? (NY Mag)
How the coronavirus won (NYT)
You don’t have to join that Facebook boycott (Branded)
It’s Time to Disarm the Police (The Nation)
Minnesota Sues Exxon, Koch Over Climate Change (WSJ)
Big congrats to Laura Hazard Owen and Josh Benton on their new roles at Nieman Lab (Nieman Lab)
Wrapped up in the Confederate flag (WaPo)