Why I’m Rethinking My Investment in Facebook (And the Future of Social Media)

Last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced big overhauls to its News Feed that favors “meaningful social interactions” that are more dependent on what your close friends and family are watching, viewing and doing.

The effect on the company’s stock was swift and terrible, as Facebook saw its shares slide several points as the market opened on Friday morning, the day after the announcement.

But the effects of the announcement on businesses that use Facebook to market, consumers who use Facebook for daily social interaction and even non-institutional investors is yet unclear, and has many — including yours truly — wondering about what this means for the fate of social media.

Wall Street’s love affair with Facebook has been largely predicated on its near-monopoly as a source of social interaction, content and news, a trifecta of offerings that has produced an addicted worldwide population that can’t get enough of the platform and its cat videos.

That consumer lure has resulted in an explosion of brands and marketers on the platform, and my agency is no different; in fact, we’ve seen positive Facebook marketing results for campaigns as diverse as new home communities and niche medical procedures.

From a marketer’s view, Facebook has provided us with a captive audience, delightful analytics and extremely alluring targeting capabilities that make for exciting opportunities for any company.

Here’s the dark side of what has become the best marketing platform ever.

No matter how you feel about the addiction of social media (and the growing number of high-level execs that have come out of the woodwork to speak out against the evil machination of online social interaction), you can’t deny that a) people love it, b) people choose to spend inordinate amounts of time on it and c) marketers have found it to be a haven for connecting with an appropriate target audience.

Seems like a win-win-win, right?

Here’s the problem: The reason why Zuck is intent on changing Facebook’s algorithm is that he knows that the social media “system” is broken. Fake news is just one glaring piece of this horrifying puzzle.

But the more (or most) pressing issue is that deciding to limit our exposure to close friends and family is a form of censorship. In fact, any way Facebook slices up my feed is a determined effort to pick and choose the things I see, and that power has incredible ramifications for how we should use (and believe) these platforms.

There might be hope for social media, but we have a lot of work to do as a society, first.

As a marketer and as an investor, I have to wonder what the future of Facebook and social media might be as we grapple with what have become serious, societal issues.

The pivotal question is, what is Facebook, really? Is it an outlet to connect with friends and family? If so, I’m not sure marketing has a place in it at all. Is it a means by which we can all broadcast our opinions, and a platform that gives everyone a voice among the deafening clutter? If so, let’s just make it about who can shout the loudest, and throw brands and people together into the fray.

Between those two extremes is a gray area in which people might share their lives while not judging others, connect with friends and family while responsibly learning about new things, and interact with products and services that might be exactly aligned with what they need.

But that utopia requires us to put great personal responsibility onto the public — and given what we’ve seen these platforms used for, I’m not sure the public is ready. 

How you answer this question will determine the future of social media.

Ultimately, if I’m going to invest in what Zuckerberg is building, I have to grapple with the question of who’s responsible — for creating, consuming, interacting and deciding within this very powerful Pandora’s Box.

For now, I’m taking a wait-and-see approach. As long as consumers positively respond to targeted advertising campaigns, my company will most likely continue to use it on behalf of clients (that is, unless and until some horrific moral problem occurs that requires us to ethically distance ourselves from the platform altogether).

And as long as companies keep marketing on Facebook, investors will have a good reason to stay in, too.

I’m just hoping that, no matter what Facebook becomes, everyone gets more responsible with how we use it.

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