If you’ve been following the tech news, you’ve probably heard about the recent brouhaha between Apple and Facebook. Apple, which scores high marks for its privacy policies, is now allowing iPhone users to opt out of letting Facebook track their activities across other companies’ apps and websites. For those who find it a bit creepy when they look at (talk about, even think about, some would say!) a product…and then that product shows up 40 times in their newsfeed over the next few days…the idea of opting out can be appealing.
This, of course, is something of a disaster for Facebook, which makes its money selling advertisers on its ability to very specifically target consumers based on their interests, buying patterns and online behavior. Facebook advertising is some of the most targeted around; you can target by location, age, gender, interests; by people who’ve interacted with your business previously, or via “lookalike audiences” of people whose profiles are similar to those of your best customers.
Allowing large swaths of the population to opt out of sharing this info creates a huge problem for the company, as well as for those who build their businesses through this type of targeted advertising.
Facebook maintains that it’s trying to protect the interest of small businesses, who rely on the advertising platform as an affordable way to target specific customer niches. (Of course Facebook fails to mention that it’s also trying to protect its own bottom line!)
Apple maintains that it’s merely protecting its iPhone users by campaigning for “greater transparency” – something it can well afford to do so because it makes its money off tech, rather than information. But Apple products are not cheap, and are not affordable to large segments of the population, whereas Facebook is accessible to all at no charge. That’s possible, of course, because Facebook’s business model monetizes users’ data to pay for this “free” service, rather than charging them outright.
While Facebook has been actively working to convince its users that Apple is in the wrong, the reality is that iPhones account for 45% of the smart phones in the U.S. – more than 100 million users – and it’s a good bet that many will opt to retain greater privacy when given the choice.
So how does this impact you as a designer? If you advertise on Facebook, drawn by the ability to target a very specific niche, you can expect things to get a whole lot tougher. And don’t be surprised if this trend begins to show up across other platforms where you might be advertising. Up until recently, people who use free online services have largely been complacent about giving their data away in exchange for those services, but with privacy concerns increasingly showing up in the spotlight, that may be changing.
But even if you don’t advertise on Facebook, and merely rely on it (or a similar platform) to build an audience , showcase your designs or increase your exposure, this should reinforce an important message: When you outsource to another company – whether it’s your mailing list (fans/followers/etc.), marketing efforts, design portfolio or something else, you’re putting yourself at the mercy of that company.
By contrast, when you own your own mailing list, you build a base of friends, fans and followers that belongs exclusively to you.
The tech wars are unlikely to end any time soon, and Facebook and other platforms will undoubtedly find ways to keep building their information libraries, even with opt out procedures in place. And there are still plenty of good reasons to invest in online advertising where you can target your ideal client in the most exacting of ways.
But even as you invest in this advertising, be sure to invest in your own website and offerings as well. Social media is a valuable tool, but ultimately, the best advertising avoids the social media “middleman” and sends your clients directly to you.