Over the past couple of weeks, a number of big brands have pulled their ad spend from Facebook. It got me thinking about how you can do business if you don’t want to use Facebook.

There isn’t a single client I work with who actively likes Facebook or what it stands for yet they all have Facebook pixel on their websites, use Ads Manager, have an Instagram profile and I’ll bet that they are all on WhatsApp.

The platform is so intrinsically linked to business building that it’s pretty impossible to build an audience without coming in contact with the business in one way or another.

Which is why I want to look at whether we should be putting all our independent business nuts into the Facebook basket.

WHY ARE BRANDS REMOVING AD SPEND FROM FACEBOOK?

For a number of years, Facebook has been confusing freedom of speech with the right to say whatever you want whether it’s true or not. They have conflicting community policies at best. Images of breastfeeding are a no-no but abusive language, misogyny, sexualisation of children, racist imagery, (I could go on), that’s okay.

Then you have the misuse of data. Facebook doesn’t really sell advertising space – sorry, bring you closer together – no it collects important data that it can then use to sway elections, predict your decision making, influence behaviour and get you to buy things.

If right now you’re thinking that’s not you, that you are too smart for this, then I’m sorry to break it to you but Facebook already knows this and is adapting its content BECAUSE you believe this to be true.

All this nefarious activity is not enough to make big brands pull out big ad spend from the platform. In fact, giving a platform to the misinformation and racism from Trump and the alt-right during the Black Lives Matter protest is the final straw for some businesses.

And it’s resulted in an ad spend boycott by some organisations.

AD SPEND

For those of us who despair about the long arms of Facebook, and don’t particularly want to give them any of our marketing budget, this is a breath of fresh air. But let’s not get too excited. This is not the great exodus from the platform.

Reading the not-so-small print, these big businesses are ONLY pulling the advertising spend from Facebook. But that’s quite some shift (and very brave for reasons I’ll go onto later on).

The brands are not moving their presence off the platform altogether. They are still collecting your data through their pixel, still creating organic content, and are very clear that their web traffic comes from Facebook-owned Instagram.

They are still paying into the machine with their audience data.

In terms of profit, it’s a drop in a very large and deep ocean. But it’s a very important drop.

FACEBOOK FINGERS IN THE PIES OF INDEPENDENT BUSINESS

Let’s get on to why this is a brave decision from the brands.

Facebook Ads and social media marketing in general has done something to try level the playing field for independent businesses. Before being able to chuck a tenner at the problem online, you would need to take out an advert in traditional media. And this comes with a hefty price tag.

For independent businesses, this means Facebook gives you the same access to data on your ideal customer as a big brand. You can do ads to your budget and make sure they get in front of the right pair of eyes.

And let’s not forget the networking potential of Facebook groups. Or how they can be used as part of a sales funnel. Plus you have Facebook Messenger bots so you don’t have to even reply to your customers.

It really is a quite astounding platform for small businesses. But that comes with a cost that isn’t money.

Your business ends up intrinsically tied into Facebook.

BUT WHAT ABOUT THOSE BIG BRANDS?

Well, if Facebook and all its many arms gives small businesses an edge, imagine the machinery involved for big brands. They will have targets driven by the data on how many sales they convert as a result of their Facebook presence and specifically, their adverts.

To rip out the ad spend means to tear up the marketing rule book on what works.

It’s a big, brave decision. But it can also work far better than the best ad campaign. Don’t worry, I’m getting to this.

BUILD YOUR AUDIENCE, BUILD YOUR LIST

Now, common content marketing sense is that you attract your audience on social media, using Facebook, and deliver the data to your list.

In fact, I asked on LinkedIn what people thought about not using Facebook for their business.

Victoria Tretis has this insight:

“I think solely relying on any platform is a marketing mistake. Which is why list building and email marketing is so imperative. Personally, I dislike Facebook groups and I’m not sure my target audience is there much either. BUT it’s a springboard towards list building so I’m keeping it.”

Which is the right attitude to take. Don’t put your efforts into building your audience (and therefore your business), on a platform that you don’t own.

We can see this in the many businesses built on Etsy. The other year they changed their terms and conditions to take a cut of the postage and packaging as well as the sale of products. And they decided to up their percentage at the same time.

It annoyed many independent makers on the site who had no recourse other than to accept these changes which cut into their profit margins. They had built their business on a platform owned by someone else.

Yet most small businesses are relying on Facebook and the products it owns to drive the traffic to their sites. We are still very much reliant on Facebook to run our businesses.

VALUE-DRIVEN MARKETING

This all occurred to me yesterday when I was sitting through a course that assumed you would have Facebook bots, groups, pixel, and ads as part of your marketing strategy. And it made me wonder if there was a way to grow a successful business without ever using Facebook.

But if Facebook is so good, and offers so much, why would you want to move away from the platform?

IT COMES DOWN TO VALUES.

My values are not the same as Facebook’s.

There are business owners who will have a much more pragmatic view on this: it’s just business. Get over it.

But if Facebook’s values are so far removed from my own brand values, does it not follow that the people I’m trying to attract are also of the same thinking?

I can’t think of a single client who actively enjoys Facebook, yet they all use it in one way or another. And most people I speak to have said: “I wish I didn’t have to use Facebook.”

I suspect that it’s partly the people I hang around and partly that no one likes a monopoly. And it feels like you need to have Facebook to run a business.

Yet our brand values are important. They attract our ideal audience and therefore clients.

Which is why doing a Facebook Ad boycott may well work out better than any ad campaign for attracting their audience for these brands.

If customers of these brands are equally turned off the idea of Facebook and its values then they will be more inspired to spend their money with the brands making a stand against it.

WHAT CAN AN INDIE BUSINESSES DO?

Would this work for a smaller business? I’m not so sure. I don’t know any businesses who aren’t working with a Facebook platform in one way or another. Nor do I know any willing to step away from it.

It’s a huge risk. And if you did, there really isn’t an advertising platform on social media that can compare to the value you get from Facebook.

WHAT’S THE ALTERNATIVE?

We need to remember that Facebook is not the only platform. Nor are its sister companies like Instagram and WhatsApp.

Sure, advertising on LinkedIn and Twitter might not get the same reach of returns. Google Keywords can help. And I’m hearing good things about Pinterest Ads (but I’ve not tried them so let me know if I’m wrong). But you don’t need to do advertising on social platforms.

If you want to consider building traffic on other platforms then putting your energy into organic traffic may be the best long game.

There are people doing great things using video and audio on non-Facebook platforms that is getting them quality leads. And it is possible to have a business that doesn’t touch the platform at all (including networking).

And while this article has sounded somewhat anti-Facebook, I don’t necessarily think that being on Facebook is wrong. I’m on there, although I don’t have a pixel (so reading this page isn’t being tracked by Facebook). But I do think we need to have a conversation about it.

Facebook has set its flag on where it stands on hate speech and false information. It’s worrying when half of people in the UK report getting their news from social media. Ofcom reports that a whopping 35 per cent of people get their news from Facebook. And this is concerning when that news is not sourced or fact checked. That the news they see is based on the algorithm designed by intimate personal data and behavioural science.

What I’m discussing is nothing new. But many small businesses are reliant on Facebook and its apps. Whether that’s to drive traffic to their site, run ads or run their business in its entirety.

There are alternatives but they take time and effort. Two things that most small businesses are short of at the best of times. Overall, we need to understand that where we choose to make our stand will reflect on our brand values. And that is worth thinking about.