Spotlight on Facebook’s comeback attempt

August 28, 2018 • 4 minute read

Facebook has recently launched one of its largest-ever advertising campaigns – ‘Here Together’ – which aims to rebuild trust in the social network after it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica had misappropriated almost 100 million Facebook users’ data.

It is never easy to return from a break in public trust as monumental as that which Facebook has recently encountered. This attempt illustrates better than most some key maxims and danger areas in attempting to come back from a damaging story.

Know your audience

Facebook’s strategy is based on three principles: emotional appeal, directness to audience and channel control. The choice by Facebook of apologising by video rather than press release or written statement is a deliberate calculation on the best way to contact their audience. The campaign is not primarily aimed at shareholders, markets, regulators or the political community; it is aimed squarely at rebuilding trust amongst end users.

The campaign has also featured print and billboard advertising, rather than overt media relations engagement. This allows Facebook to control their messaging carefully and circumvent negative media reaction. A few positive words in print for Facebook will likely be drowned out by a deluge of negative ones.

One way to cut through a rational critique is to appeal to users’ emotions, and that is exactly what the video (and wider campaign) does. By reminding people of the reason they joined Facebook in the first place, the advert brushes over most of the negative stories and goes straight for the gut.

You can’t PR your way out of something you behaved yourself into

It’s all well and good launching a new campaign promising a change in behaviour. But when there are still stories coming out – such as one last week alleging Facebook shared private data with 61 companies – it is very difficult to change public perception, especially if the number of negative stories could fill an entire newsfeed.

Leadership reputation is everything

When people think about Facebook they think about one man: Mark Zuckerberg. His appearance in front of Congress earlier this year led to a host of negative coverage on his ability to perform under the spotlight. With 83% of independent Facebook investors believing Mark Zuckerberg should be fired as chairman of the board, it is clear that Facebook’s founder risks ‘becoming the story’ and a focal point for the discontent toward Facebook, both inside and outside the company.

Facebook may now be wondering whether Zuckerberg is the right person to take them forward, or whether different leadership is needed to help the company mature and reputationally rebuild.

Consistency of message

Transparency is now the name of the game for Facebook. Before the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook’s terms of service and data privacy were oblique and provided little information on user data. Facebook have now released a transparency report and a manifesto for transparency for adverts and pages in an attempt to show just how committed they are to “making Facebook a place that’s open and authentic”.

Within the heart of every communication from Facebook comes the message “We made a mistake, but we’re now dedicated to being more transparent”. It remains to be seen whether users ‘like’ what they see, or whether they decide to ‘unfriend’ Facebook.

Peter Barrett is Associate Director at Infinite Global.