Facebook Ads boycott: What will be the measure of success?

The list of advertisers keeps growing — 500 and counting, according to Sleeping Giants. Much has been written about whether the advertiser boycott of Facebook Ads that kicked off today will amount to anything. It may depend on your expectations.

Most brands want to see action to create a cleaner, safer environment for their brands. Some can take part with little financial sacrifice and ride the positive PR at Facebook’s expense. Still, other brands are using the opportunity to pressure test the true benefit of Facebook, and even the larger social media ecosystem, for their brands.

Invisible to most users. From a user perspective, the boycott is essentially invisible. Unlike #BlackOutTuesday, for example, when my feeds were filled with black squares, today they look unchanged. There are plenty of ads from small and large brands, alike. But, consumer engagement isn’t the point.

Nor is “killing Facebook,” as some have put it, the goal.

Financial impact. The boycott, spearheaded by civil rights groups, aimed to get CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s attention by hitting him in his wallet. The financial damage, for now, appears fleeting. After precipitous drops Friday, June 26 and Monday, June 29 that wiped out roughly $60 billion in market value, Facebook’s stock is nearly back at pre-boycott-headline levels as of this writing. Further, while Facebook stands to lose several hundred million dollars in ad spend from brands, the relative loss in ad revenue from Starbucks, Verizon, Unilever, Clorox, Pepsi and others likely won’t be visible come earnings report time with data further muddied by COVID-19 fallout. Facebook has more than 7 million advertisers, most of whom are small businesses that are heavily dependent on Facebook and Instagram for sales and leads. Last year, Facebook said its top 100 advertisers represented less than 20% of its ad revenue.

But again, the point is to get Zuckerberg’s attention and force his hand to take stronger action against hate content and misinformation on his platforms. It got his attention, but the verdict is still out on the action.

Company response so far. Facebook has been holding daily calls with ad executives, The New York Times reported Tuesday. The company is on the PR offensive. It has made some small, late-comer moves.

On Friday, Zuckerberg said Facebook would start flagging “newsworthy” posts from politicians that violate its policies, as Twitter does, and later added that it will submit to an audit of its hate speech controls. On Tuesday, Facebook said it was banning a hate group network associated with the “boogaloo” movement while acknowledging it’s been “closely following [the movement’s] developments since 2019.” The company also said this week that it is changing its algorithm to prioritize bylined, original news reporting — something Google did in September.

On Wednesday, Facebook’s PR lead, Nick Clegg published a defense of the company’s decision to keep inflammatory posts from President Trump up, saying “Facebook does not profit from hate” and announced an initiative to register 4 million voters in the U.S.

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