Will SMEs change their marketing as trust in social media plummets?

The Cambridge Analytica fallout has resulted in fewer consumers trusting social media than the government. For startups and SMEs, this means taking a careful look at their online marketing

Will SMEs change their marketing as trust in social media plummets?

No matter how you look at it, it’s not been a great few years for social media platforms. Last week YouTube had to deal with ads being showed next to extremist videos and Facebook kept struggling with the bad press from the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Add to that the last two years’ constant reporting about fake news spreading across the web and it’s easy to see why new research has seen consumer trust in social media platforms being way too low for comfort.

Having surveyed 1,000 British consumers, Databoxer, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) compliance service, found that only 17% trust social media companies with their personal data. In comparison, that number was 33% for big brands they buy stuff from and 32% for government organisations.

The research seemingly confirmed an April report done by Tech London Advocates, the network for tech professionals in the UK capital. It suggested 51% of tech business leaders fear that consumer trust in the sector is at a record low.

The question is where this leaves business leaders when it comes to their online marketing efforts. Some people, like David Ingram, managing director of Bring Digital, the digital marketing agency, face the future with some trepidation. “While we’ve seen social media play an increasing role in consumer buying behaviour, I do believe that the fallout from the recent privacy scandal could have an impact on how people connect and interact with brands through social media,” he told Elite Business. “As with any change like this, though, it’s important to follow the data, so we’ll be monitoring any changes in engagement on social media closely before deciding what’s best going forward. Scandals like Cambridge Analytica are often clouded in speculation, so it’s best not to be too reactive.”

However, other corporate head honchos seem to take the plummeting consumer trust in their stride. In fact, for many it’s going to be business as usual. “We still believe that our prospects and clients are all actively using social media and will continue to do so,” said Peter Tuvey, co-founder of Fleximize, the alternative finance provider. That being said, he told Elite Business he wouldn’t hesitate to withdraw from platforms if he thought clients’ data was at risk.

And it’s not difficult to see why firms of all sizes will continue to use platforms like Facebook and YouTube to spread the word about their services. “Trust in social media may well be down but the fact remains that it’s still an intrinsic communications channel for customers,” said Andy Lord, CEO of Code Nation, the coding school. “There’s no getting away from customer expectations that they’ll not only be able to engage with you online but also transact with you online. The role of social and other online platforms as businesses evolve is as important as ever.”

Still, it’s clear that social media platforms have some work to do to regain people’s trust. “Social media companies need to be truly transparent and honest with their users,” said Charlotte McMillan, founder of Storychest, the digital scrapbook. “For too long, privacy options have been [user-unfriendly and] buried in the small print. To regain trust, they need to walk the talk. Facebook’s recent decision [over the past few weeks] to change the terms of its privacy policy for European customers to take them outside the remit of the GDPR and the higher bar that it sets contradicts its public contrition in the face of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Customers expect much more transparency now and should be given a range of clear, comprehensible privacy options so that can manage their own risk.”

While it seems as if SMEs still have much to win by marketing their services on places like Facebook and Twitter, the comments above underline the importance of closely monitoring how these platforms handle data.

Eric Johansson
Eric Johansson

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