On June 17th, several civil rights groups started the #StopHateforProfit movement in response and protest to deficiencies in Facebook’s content approval and advertising in what is being called the Facebook Boycott by many in the industry. Since the protest started, major corporations and many smaller companies have pulled advertising from Facebook, not wanting to contribute financially to something that may be unjust. The social media giant has been accused of a lack of proper management of posts and advertisements that may be promoting false information. Instagram, owned by Facebook, is also part of the boycott.
While the proper management and control of posts by major companies and political parties may be difficult to enact, this movement is speaking directly to the mismanagement that has led many users to have false beliefs on certain topics.
The NAACP and Anti-Defamation League launched the #StopHateForProfit movement and it is still in full effect more than two months later.
On the organization’s website, they state: With the support of more than 1,100 businesses, 100+ nonprofits, and countless consumers, we sent a clear message to Facebook: stop valuing profits over hate, bigotry, racism, antisemitism, and disinformation.
In response to the boycott, other social media companies have stepped up to the plate rather than shy away from the conversation. Twitter, for example, tightened their response to dangerous conspiracy theories and the spread of misinformation, even on Trump’s personal account.
While the company’s success doesn’t depend on a few large advertisers, the boycott was more directed at the social media platform’s reputation than its bottom line.
To Advertise or to Boycott?
This movement, while just and necessary for everyone’s safety on Facebook and Instagram, puts us at Pico Digital Marketing in a difficult position. It’s our job to present our clients with the most information possible to help them grow their business, and that typically involves advertising on Facebook. As experts in digital marketing, we also need to be ahead of the curve on anything that’s happening in the industry, and the Facebook boycott is a very real thing.
The platforms that we invest money in, and recommend to our clients, have a greater impact than we may think. Running a Facebook ad here and there can indeed increase revenue and conversions, but it’s also important to consider the social impact of a company like Facebook.
In recent months, we’ve been placing great importance on listening and learning about the social environment around us. We feel it’s incredibly responsible and vital to pay attention to massive movements like the Facebook boycott and learn about how best to move forward.
Since the movement was launched, major corporations have pulled out their advertising dollars including Starbucks, Coca-Cola, Levi’s, and Honda-US. Starbucks is the largest advertiser to pause advertising so far on the social platform, spending $94.8 million in 2019.
In this graph and note from an article in The New York Times, you can see the boycott only accounted for about 12% of their ad revenue
Note: “Reduced spenders” are companies that did not officially announce boycotts, but decreased their spending in July by at least 90 percent compared to June. Source: PathmaticsBy Eleanor Lutz
Many small to midsize businesses rely on Facebook for revenue and were torn on what to do during the peak of the boycott in June and July. And in a difficult economic time, it’s simply not an option for many to join the boycott indefinitely. While the decision to continue advertising on the platform is personal, it’s undeniable that this movement has surely woken people up to the motives and internal practices of Facebook.
Immediately following the boycott, Facebook experienced a stock decline and worldwide reporting. Everyone is looking at the social media giant under a microscope now. Facebook responded to public pressure with policy changes, but this may not be enough to bring some of the largest companies back on board. Trial by media is 2020’s favorite way to hold companies and people accountable, and Facebook isn’t exempt.
Additionally, Facebook has had many meetings since the initial boycott with ad industry representatives and Facebook executives. They aren’t taking this lightly, and their reputation, in the long run, might be the hardest hit they take.
At most, Facebook’s reputation will be tarnished for a time. At the least, people are discussing the toxicity of some Facebook content.
The New York Times stated, “‘What could really hurt Facebook is the long-term effect of its perceived reputation and the association with being viewed as a publisher of ‘hate speech’ and other inappropriate content,’ Stephen Hahn-Griffiths, the executive vice president of the public opinion analysis company RepTrak, wrote in a post last month.”
The boycott has encouraged some major companies to look to other platforms like YouTube and Twitter to place their advertising dollars in. While the larger and international companies who boycotted have helped get the word out, it’s really about the small and midsize businesses that are going to make the biggest impact.
So, what’s next for advertising on social media?
How to Navigate the Facebook Boycott
As digital marketing experts, we’ve never seen such a wide-sweeping and long-lasting boycott as this. It can be difficult to know how to navigate a time like this, especially in an economic downturn.
In a time where consumers care more than ever about a brand’s social justice stance, this is a big deal. Consumers are not just buying products from brands, they’re buying into brands. And this means that the values of the company are just as important as the product reviews. By helping consumers understand what you stand for and against, you’re delivering a different type of brand loyalty, and the one that really matters. To stop funding a platform that promotes, or at the very least doesn’t regulate, hate speech is a step in the right direction. But this boycott may not be enough to sway a sufficient amount of brands away from negative platforms like Facebook.
Navigating this time requires tact, intuition, and doing the right thing by your own values and the values that your customers support. Sustainable and social brands that support charities and organizations are going to perform better than brands that don’t say anything at all about their social or political stance.
And while many people may not believe that a brand has a place at the table to talk politics or support social organizations and movements, there are plenty of consumers who think that not saying something is even worse.
We are living through history right now, and being on the right side of that history is incredibly important to many consumers. Advertising on social media is no longer about great copy and an eye-catching graphic. It’s about choosing the platform that supports and represents the values of both the brand and the consumer.
An article published on CNBC stated: Unilever has pulled ads from Facebook and Twitter for the rest of the year in the U.S., it said in June. And, according to Eric Levy, a lecturer in marketing at the Queen Mary University of London, it may be a while until some companies return to social media. “With things down turning a bit, brands are spending less. But I think that brands are going to start to spend more once the economy picks up, and possibly also after the (U.S. presidential) election,” he told CNBC.
It’s up to each individual brand whether they feel it’s right to continue, or return to, advertising on social media. With everything under close scrutiny in 2020, there’s no doubt that the advertising landscape will change in the coming months. And being an election year, this is especially sensitive.
“While we’ve made progress, our journey is not complete,” said Coca-Cola in a recent update. “At this time, as we continue to assess each platform, we can confirm that our re-entry to social media will be a phased approach by channel.”
While the Facebook boycott is said to have officially ended at the end of July, many large brands and advertisers are continuing with pausing advertising. While the decision to resume advertising or continue to pause is unique to each brand, it’s important to take note of what competitors are doing and how they are handling the boycott.
Here are some questions to ask yourself as a business owner to help you decide whether or not to continue advertising on Facebook and Instagram in the coming months:
- Does this platform protect consumers from falling victim to hate speech and false claims?
- Do the values of the platform align with the values of the brand?
- How is the brand’s target market responding to the boycott and social injustice?
- Is the brand’s marketing budget better spent on a different platform that is doing more to prevent hate speech?
- Where is the target market spending their time, and has that platform spoken publicly about preventing hate speech?
- What are the brand’s main competitors doing and how have they managed the boycott?
- Is the brand comfortable with the changes Facebook has made so far and is that enough to justify returning?
While change doesn’t happen overnight, many brands are happy with the initial changes to policies Facebook has made and have decided to resume advertising. The North Face, for example, was one of the first to join the boycott and is now one of the first to resume advertising on Facebook.
The decision to continue advertising or continue to boycott is a difficult one for many brands. While there are other major social media platforms to advertise on, it seems as though Facebook and Instagram are among the most profitable and most used by consumers. And while the boycott wasn’t aimed at affecting Facebook’s bottom line as much as it was to bring awareness to their poorly designed and enforced policies, it’s clear that both Facebook’s revenue and its reputation have been affected.
Facebook has publicized a four-point action plan formulated by the Global Alliance for Responsible Media, and this seems to ease the fears of many major brands like Heineken. And with Facebook controlling the central messaging platform that can publicly shame them, it’s unlikely that the boycott will have changed much in the eyes of the public.
The important thing to understand here as a small or midsize business is that it all comes down to the values and needs of the company.
Until Facebook makes a clear and aggressive effort to remove racist material posted and promoted on the platform, it may be better to put your advertising dollars elsewhere. It’s better to have a multi-platform advertising strategy anyway, and this is a great opportunity to get comfortable with alternatives to Facebook. It doesn’t look like Facebook is going to fully recover their reputation, although this isn’t the first time they’ve been under legal fire either.
The polarized atmosphere in the US, coupled with a heated and controversial election year, is placing Facebook and its lack of policies around policing hate speech and misinformation in the spotlight.
If you’re unsure of how to navigate the boycott and where to place your advertising budget, we’re here to help. As digital marketing experts, we focus on getting you from where you are to where you want to be. And while the digital marketing landscape may look vastly different than it did in January 2020, there are still many options to help you expand your reach and increase your revenue. We’re here to give you the best guidance and support, and our team of marketing mavens will steer you in the right direction. Get in touch with us at Pico Digital Marketing to discuss your social media advertising and we’ll get through this together.