31 Jan 2018
Last summer, thousands of Wetherspoons customers who had signed up to the company’s newsletter – no doubt some of them halfway through a craft ale in their local ‘Spoons at the time – received a rather surprising email.
The move to erase all data on some 700,000 customers was widely seen as a pre-emptive strike. By eliminating the risks associated with holding customer data, they removed the prospect of a hefty fine once the imminent GDPR legislation kicks in.
(The company’s 2015 data breach may just have had something to do with their decision too.)
At the time, asking customers to follow Wetherspoons’ Facebook page for news updates seemed logical. But now there’s a new algorithm behind Facebook’s News Feed. And it doesn’t favour brands and their content.
So now, whether through its own volition or Mark Zuckerberg’s, Wetherspoons finds itself in a position whereby it has a dramatically reduced ability to communicate with its audience.
May other companies will find themselves in a similar quandry. But are these seismic changes in B2C communications a threat to brands? Or are they an opportunity?
GDPR: THE THREAT
Two big, black clouds currently hang over all businesses that hold large amounts of customer data – or any amount, in truth.
The first ominous presence represents compliance around what the GDPR allows organisations to do with customer data.
With four months until its implementation, it’s safe to assume that 99.9% of organisations are aware of the consequences of inaction or insufficient action. And are taking steps to get in shape.
Given the explicit warnings of a fine of €20m or 4% of global turnover, the other 0.1% might just be in big trouble.
The second storm brewing is to do with data breaches. Businesses that experience one must report them, and do so within 72 hours.
As the ICO’s own blog says:
“Tell it all, tell it fast, tell the truth”
Its aim is to force companies to get serious about preventing and detecting serious data breaches. Of 187 marketing and advertising companies surveyed by YouGov, 70% of respondents were uncertain of their ability to detect a data breach. Only 37% said they could notify users within the GDPR-required 72 hours.
The most pertinent threat from either issue is that commentators fully expect examples to be made of non-compliant businesses in the early post-GDPR days.
“It is safest to assume that, despite its scant resources, the ICO will look to lay down a marker with a high-profile test case in order to deter brands from taking a lax attitude.”
The “event horizon” approach taken by Wetherspoons might seem a little extreme. But if it chooses to begin an eCRM programme again, starting from scratch in a post-GDPR world may just be a wise decision.
GDPR: THE OPPORTUNITY
The truth is that marketeers should be forecasting sunnier skies when looking at the GDPR.
Full compliance with its legislation means a richer, cleaner data set on customers that are genuinely interested in engaging with their business.
This provides a much-needed reframing of the answer to the question: why do I hold this customer’s data? Rather than being along the lines of “so I can sell my products to them”, the answer really should be “so I can provide a great customer experience”.
For too long, too many companies have stuck squarely with the former.
It also means that privacy will finally be taken seriously. As Econsultancy editor Ben Davies puts it, the focus will be on…
“understanding privacy as a central tenet of any project you undertake”
This era of “privacy by design” should result in less data breaches as best practice becomes the norm, rather than the gold standard.
All in all, forcing companies to raise their standards when it comes to using data in comms can only be a good thing for the customers of those companies. Everybody wins.
FACEBOOK: THE THREAT
The changes made to Facebook’s News Feed algorithm mean that it now favours user updates and “meaningful” content over other forms such as brands’ posts and publisher content.
Effectively, this means that organic posts from business pages may well end up being virtually invisible.
Those commentating on the issue are gloomy about its prospects. Forecasts range from “a decline on Facebook” for business content to “a seismic shift with the potential to strike a major blow to publishers and businesses”. Ouch.
Either way, there won’t be any more free lunches for brands on Facebook. Only the most relevant and engaging content (meaning that which elicits comments, not likes or shares) will get eyeballs.
Other than that, it’s paid ads – which will undoubtedly get more expensive as demand grows – and influencer partnerships which will flourish under in the News Feed’s new world.
FACEBOOK: THE OPPORTUNITY
And yet, as with those who adapt effectively to the GDPR, all this should be seen by brands as a chance to improve.
Let’s face it, those posts that begged for likes and shares were rubbish anyway. The days of churning out post after post of tedious content, just to maintain an up-to-date page, are over. And our lives (along with yours, if that’s what you do/did for a living) will be better for it.
Facebook have ushered in an era where brands are more considerate. More in tune with their audiences, more informed on the content that people want to engage with.
Our digital director Jake Xu (pictured below) agrees.
“I think we will start to see brands posting less frequently, as they realise that the ‘new’ Facebook cares less about quantity and more about quality.
“The brands that survive and prosper in this new era are those that focus on building a really strong relationship with their customers.
This means understanding who they are, what makes them tick and creating quality content around this.”
Our clients are, understandably, a tad nervous about the future.
But we’ve been quick to reassure them that good news for consumers (which all of this most definitely is) should be good news for them too. They just have to adjust, adapt and plan accordingly.
With our agency hats on, we’ll be helping them do just this. But with our consumer hats on, we should really be thanking the powers that be.
Whether it’s politics, business or social media networks, we often berate those in control for not being decisive enough, or taking big enough steps to deal with major issues.
Having the ability to manage and control our personal data is a huge step for consumers. Long overdue, too. So let’s rejoice. It’s nearly upon us. Pack away the umbrellas.
The same goes for Facebook too. Let’s all be glad that they’re putting the ‘social’ back in their network.
Unless you only follow brands on Facebook.
But then, without any friends or family posts to compete with, I guess nothing will change for you…!