In the age of social media breaches, public trust is paramount

MG’s new VP of Digital Strategy shares three ways marketers and digital strategists can remain transparent when managing users data

By Shakirah Hill, Vice President of Digital strategy, Metropolitan Group

An hour-long conversation with reporters last Thursday afternoon forced Mark Zuckerberg, Co-Founder and CEO of a social media juggernaut, to reckon with a hard truth—Facebook diminished millions of its users’ trust.

What started out 14 years ago as a platform to connect college friends is now the center of a major data breach scandal and will likely be a case study on the negligence of privacy stewardship in years to come. Facebook and Cambridge Analytica’s mishandling of 87 million users’ information is a startling realization for every day digital consumers; that their access to social platforms put them at risk for political manipulation and cost them their data privacy. More than a realization for consumers, the data breach must be a clarion call to accountability for digital marketers (those of us who use social media to engage communities and customers).

Each day digital marketers have at our disposal the ability to reach millions of people across the world with data made available by digital platforms. Because our society is one largely built on an interactive ecosystem we could, almost, take for granted the power we hold as content creators and distributors. But as the old saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. It was this great responsibility, Zuckerberg, by his own admission failed to acknowledge. And whether you control a global digital platform or drive digital strategy for a small nonprofit, all digital marketers must be careful not to leave digital consumers private information and data vulnerable.

I think it is a safe assumption to say Facebook and its competitor platforms—Twitter, YouTube, even SnapChat—will be around for much longer. However, the lingering mistrust of users will be a new uphill battle for anyone managing data. To help maintain what trust remains and to build trust going forward, digital marketers still have an opportunity to be leaders in modeling good stewardship of data.

When handed the task of creating a new digital campaign and entrusted with consumers data, here are three key guiding principles for digital marketers.

  1. Be transparent: Following March’s data breach, the omniscience of big data has become even scarier for digital consumers. Getting ahead of consumers’ fears requires transparency on how data is being collected and used. This means marketers and content distributors cannot hide behind lengthy legal jargon. For end-users, there must be a clearly articulated expectation of use on their information. As an example, if a digital team is looking to build a landing page for email acquisition, that team should state explicitly on the landing page how it plans to use the information captured. Charity Water goes as far as sharing what an example email from the organization will look like in a recipient’s inbox.
  2. Give more than you take: We ask a lot of consumers when we collect their information. This is an inherent exchange of not only email addresses and phone numbers but also an exchange of trust. What consumers get for sharing their information should be as valuable. As a social impact digital marketer, I believe the best value I can provide a digital consumer is connecting them with the missions and organizations that align with their ethos. The exchange of information is to ensure digital consumers have the opportunity to do good in the world, one click at a time.
  3. Admit mistakes quickly: The internet is fallible and not without the opportunity for mistakes. I believe digital consumers are aware of the margin for error when they provide data to a brand, organization or cause. But that margin is only afforded if we take responsibility to address mistakes quickly. If digital marketers follow the path of Facebook and try to hide missteps, we will quickly find that what has always been true in political scandals is true in digital – the cover-up is worse than the initial mistake and that loss of trust is far greater. If mistakes are made, they must be communicated immediately and honestly.

As Mark Zuckerberg speaks today at congressional hearings, and as the media coverage and social media discussion of the hearings engages millions, digital marketers should dive into the discourse as champions for transparency and should prepare for a world where maintaining the trust of the public is no longer the exception but the rule.

About the Author

Shakirah Hill

Vice president, Metropolitan Group

Shakirah Hill is the VP of Digital Strategy for Metropolitan Group, a social change strategy and creative agency. When she’s not helping clients create positive and long standing social impact, she can be found running, cooking, and reading a good book.