The UK faces another vote this Summer. Whatever the impact on how the country is governed, we can be certain that the election process will generate a fresh round of speculation about how social media, and principally Facebook, is influencing political views/wrecking lives/creepy/sinister (delete as appropriate).
It won’t surprise you to read that we have a slightly different view.
Yes, advertising on Facebook is frustrating, or creepy, depending on strongly you feel about it.
Yes, you can end up in an echo chamber talking to lots of other parents, neighbours, liberals, conservatives or whomever you choose to Like and Follow.
But let’s not forget that away from the political agenda and news cycle, Facebook offers some simply amazing features that help organisations respond and inform in a way that would have been unimaginable 10 years ago.
If Facebook thinks you’re in the vicinity of a major incident, such as a terror attack or natural disaster, it will ask you if you are safe. Tap ‘I’m safe’ and your status will be updated. Think it’s a gimmick? Suspend judgement until you depend on it.
Suddenly really grateful for that Facebook “I’m safe” alert. Seems a lot of my friends are in Paris right now & it helps to know they’re OK.
— Kat Kinsman (@kittenwithawhip) November 14, 2015
Facebook is optimised for video, and our increasingly short attention spans. Facebook knows what we do when we’re on there, so it makes sense to play the game. Organisations such as the National Crime Agency do a brilliant job of explaining their work and making the most of the channel.
Facebook advertising is incredibly frustrating when it appears crudely in a sidebar, reflecting whatever we’ve been Googling 2 minutes ago. But when advertising is targeted well, it is incredibly powerful and essential for businesses and other organisations who need to target specific groups of people in certain areas of a country.
What’s more it’s measurable, which makes it cost-effective. This is the reach and transparency that the Yellow Pages and local newspapers can only dream about.
We write a lot about the importance of channels such as Facebook for gathering people’s views and opinions. Facebook is also an important source of information to find witnesses and understand context. It’s a first port of call for media, so it should be a go-to place for investigating authorities too. Just remember that even if someone’s profile is unlocked, you’ll need to talk to them first about using their content.
If you were fundraising 10 years ago, your supporters might have enjoyed some success promoting a link to a web page or payment details on Facebook, for their sponsored swim. Since 2015 charities benefit from a simple Donate Now button that not only makes donation straightforward for new supporters, but helps friends of supporters to donate.
Before we all get too swept away with stories about how much of a bad influence Facebook is, let’s keep in mind the things Facebook can be good for too.