By Adam Fraser
There’s an old sales adage I’m sure you’ve heard of. It’s certainly often quoted in the business world.
People buy from people they know, like and trust.
We should probably add “and are competent at what they do” but lets park that technicality for the moment. Can we apply this same adage to consumers and their use of social media networks? Arguably yes. The “like” part is probably key in this context to users – do they enjoy the experience of being on the platform – but to me the “trust” element is the sleeper that may soon move from ‘back of mind’ to very much ‘front of mind’ to those same users.
Which brings us to Facebook. How they doing on the trust front?
Safe to say there has been a longstanding concern and cynicism around the substance, complexity and ever changing nature of Facebook’s privacy policies, noting settlements with the FTC over privacy violations, regular stoushes with privacy groups and class actions in relation to violating users’ rights as just a few examples of this. Stop 1,000 people in the street and ask for a single word they think of when you say “Facebook” and trust is certainly not going to pop into peoples’ heads.
So the recently discovered “experiment” performed by Facebook certainly didn’t help. In case you missed it, without any knowledge or consent of the guinea pigs participating, Facebook went ahead and tweaked the type of news feed messages seen by approximately 700,000 users in order to assess the impact this had on their emotional state.
No scientific research needed to gauge the response. Outrage. Disbelief. Declining trust.
Facebook really is playing with fire here. With its seemingly insurmountable position in the social media food chain, and its stellar recent financial results, it may appear to be bullet proof. It’s certainly acting this way. And with 1.32bn monthly users worldwide there’s no question it would have a long way to fall.
But trust is such a critical and fragile commodity, Facebook would be wrong (and short-sighted) to dismiss the growing concerns in relation to its seeming indifference to privacy. Certainly consumers – especially at the younger end of the spectrum – do seem to have a reasonably high tolerance and resilience to this sort of stuff from Facebook before being triggered to start that (not particularly easy) “delete account” process. But a tipping point could absolutely come where consumers begin to abandon Facebook on mass due to privacy concerns.
What the catalyst will be is uncertain and unpredictable but my sense is we may be closer to this “line in the sand” re privacy than Facebook realises.
Why is anyone on Facebook? Primarily to stay in touch with friends and family they care about. Once the trust goes, is anyone still going to share their most personal information and photos there? If those people stop showing up, will you? You can see how a dangerous, contagious spiral down in user numbers could commence.
At the peak of their powers, market leading businesses and great empires alike start to think they can rule the world for ever. Is Facebook at that point right now?