10 ways to protect yourself from the collapse of Facebook

Facebook could become a new Myspace or Enron — ruining the social media plans of enterprise users and digital marketers. He’s how to contain the risk.

Image caption: Facebook is to privacy as Marlboro is to air quality

I was recently on a call with a business associate, and was explaining why having too much of your digital marketing income dependent on Facebook is a risky proposition in the present turbulent times. Here’s a quick run through of my notes for your benefit.

There are three objective reasons to be wary of Facebook’s longevity:

1. Legal liability risk. In its court fight with journalist Laura Loomer, Facebook as asserted it is a publisher, and not a platform. They are attempting to justify their anti-conservative editorial bias, but this position contradicts statements made by them to government authorities. This potentially makes Facebook liable for everything ever said on their platform (thus huge libel costs), and everyone who is a user claiming minimum wage for their (so far unpaid) journalism. This alone could bankrupt them.

2. Criminal risk. Facebook was established the same day the oddly similar DARPA Lifelog project was closed. (Hint: they are the same thing.) The more many of us learn about DARPA, the less we like what we hear. There is compelling evidence that Facebook has always had a hidden agenda as an illegal spying network on US and world citizens, and has a large exposure to election fraud and racketeering.

3. Commercial risk. The Department of Justice is looking at the tech giants, their business practises, and their hard-to-shift monopolies as multi-sided market platforms. They may all be receiving effective subsidies from partners who are engaged in serious illegal activity (in the way the very corrupt pharma industry keeps a lot of the mainstream media going). The breakup of Facebook (and divestment of Instagram, WhatsApp, etc.) would be an opportunity for someone to challenge its model and steal its user base.

I can’t tell you what will happen in the future, or whether Facebook will thrive or fail. The platform has been losing users, and you don’t run ads about privacy unless you have a privacy problem. There’s enough bad news about Facebook that you have to accept the possibility it is the next Arthur Andersen, Enron, or even just Myspace. In order to manage this very ordinary strategic risk (as an enterprise user or digital marketer), here are ten ways in which you can take action.

1. Use a white label enterprise social media service

I have been very surprised recently when a few companies I interact with, as well as my younger daughter’s school, continue to use Facebook groups and messenger for support and notifications. (I absolutely refuse to use Facebook.)

This is poor brand management, and exposes the users and supplier to unnecessary risk of privacy problems. There are many “white label” platforms out there that you can use that don’t encourage your customers to risk their privacy. White label services give you the customisation, control, and branding you need for your own business, without any intermediary.

2. Use a purpose-specific platform or service

Rather than the “horizontal” white label service, there are also plenty of “vertical” applications that solve the social sharing needs of different media types (e.g. video, photos, arts, crafts), and activities (e.g. sports teams). It’s not hard to get off Facebook and onto something that better meets the needs of your specific activity.

3. Build an email list

I was deplatformed by Medium for writing about crime and corruption in Silicon Valley (a badge of honour!), and could easily lose my Twitter account with no notice or redress. I could even be kicked off Mailchimp, which is how you received this email newsletter. However, I do export my mailing list data frequently, so I am control over this relationship, and not at the mercy of any one platform or third party identity provider. Consider capturing email data from your users, even if you don’t start a mailing list.

4. Multi-home your social media activities

You can open accounts on many different social media platforms, and use an aggregator application to post to all of them. Spread your activity around and meet people where they already are. Many people are experimenting with new privacy-centric, censorship-free, or distributed services.

5. Upgrade your media model to audio and video

Rather than focusing all your social media effort on text and images, consider shifting your focus to podcasts and streaming video. There are many better platforms out there than Facebook for these, and you don’t need to concentrate your distribution effort on any one platform.

6. Use indirects and redirects for key resources

When you point to any social media post that you write, consider using a URL shortener that you can edit, so that these links don’t go “dead” if the platform goes out of business; you can just point them somewhere else. In a similar way, I am using domains like wwg1wga.martingeddes.com for essays that could get censored (again!) so if Squarespace (who host that one) boot me off, I can just rehost the content somewhere else without hassle. This solves the problem I had when all article links to Medium essays went “dead”.

7. Build a reboot strategy

We’ve moved all of our data to the cloud, but we’ve yet to experience the cloud equivalent of a “stock market crash” when services suddenly go out of business. Just as a computer backup is only as good as your recovery strategy, you also need to practise “outages” of your social media partners. If you needed to reach the same customers via other means, would you have the tools, data, skills and processes in place? The day of the disaster isn’t a good time to start!

8. Diversify your marketing budget and trial other services

If you have concentrated your social media advertising on the most popular platforms, that may be unwise. Take a small amount to run trials on other services, especially emerging ones. This allows you to test run any technical integration issues, and get a sense of how these different audiences react to your messages. Learning and risk diversification is more important than ROI.

9. Download your data

Facebook has a facility to download all your data. Do this regularly, because if the platform experiences serious distress and disaster, others are likely to be able to import this data. Waiting to find Facebook has just gone bust isn’t a great moment to begin thinking of starting the download.

10. Communicate to show you’re ahead of the game

Perception is reality, so be honest with your clients — whether as an enterprise buying social media services, or digital marketer. Acknowledge that there may be a risk concentration issue, show you are aware of it, and are making reasonable efforts to mitigate the consequences. Simply having an adult dialogue about the possibility of a “black swan” type failure is likely to differentiate you as a responsible business partner, regardless of what happens to Facebook.