To Boycott Facebook or Not? That Is the Question for Big Brands and Local Marketers Alike

Maggie Sullivan | July 1, 2020

An increasing number of companies are boycotting Facebook by withdrawing their advertising from the social media platform for the month of July and possibly beyond. The advertising boycott emerged in protest of Facebook’s meek response to users who promote hate and disinformation. As major brands such as Unilever, Starbucks, and Adidas take public stances against Facebook’s current policies, you’re likely wondering whether your business should pull its Facebook advertising, too.

There’s no clear-cut answer, and local marketers — who heavily rely on Facebook ads for leads — are too often excluded from the equation. Brands must educate themselves about the motives driving the Facebook advertising boycott and make their own decision based on company values and potential business outcomes. The following recommendations can be used as a framework for determining whether or not pulling Facebook advertising is right for your business:

1. If You Take a Stand in the Facebook Advertising Boycott, Consider the Long-Term Commitment

Don’t exploit the boycott for marketing purposes just because it’s trending in the current moment. If your organization sways on issues or can’t commit to advocating for the cause long-term — whether that’s 10 weeks or 10 years from now — it’s best not to take a public stance. Pulling out of advertising for just 1 month without committing to other concrete actions for eliminating hate and disinformation is a disingenuous ploy that could compromise your brand’s credibility.

2. Consider the Impact That Facebook Ad Withdrawal Will Have on Your Local Marketing and Channel Partners

While your national brand may have the financial resilience to sacrifice Facebook advertising, local partners — such as independent retailers, agents, dealers, and franchisees — may find themselves in a tougher spot. Facebook ads often serve as local partners’ primary lead generation source and are a driving force for getting customers through their doors. It’s also one of the easiest, most cost-effective marketing tools for overextended small-business owners. In fact, huge streams of small business revenue are often tied to Facebook ads. Eliminating this source of leads could make it challenging for local partners to get the sales and foot traffic needed to stay afloat, especially in the wake of COVID-19 shutdowns, which have limited other sources of leads, such as events. On top of that, some local partners may be inclined to capitalize on the more affordable Facebook ad inventory that has opened up after top advertisers abandoned the platform.

On the contrary, Facebook ads are often used as a brand awareness tool for national brands, making it less risky to remove the tactic from an overall marketing strategy. But national brands could also face backlash for being complicit with Facebook’s failure to enforce civil online behavior, and it’d be especially concerning if your ad were to appear next to a hateful or inaccurate post. If your brand is considering participating in the Facebook boycott, it’s important to weigh the potential impact it would have on both national and local marketing and for you to make sure your partners have other tools in place for generating leads.

Facebook ads often serve as a primary lead generation source for local partners and are a driving force for getting customers through their doors. It’s also one of the easiest and most cost-effective marketing tools for overextended small-business owners.

3. Reallocate Facebook Advertising Dollars to LinkedIn, YouTube, Snapchat, and Google

If your brand participates in the Facebook boycott, consult with a paid advertising expert to determine the best alternative channels to reach your audience. With a strategic reallocation of your budget, you may see a minimal change in impressions, web traffic, and sales. Advertising on LinkedIn, YouTube, Snapchat, and Google are the most viable alternatives to Facebook, considering Twitter is simultaneously under fire and Instagram is also owned by the Zuckerberg empire. Once again, what’s acceptable for your national brand may hurt your local partners—some may be unable to come up with the funds for other channels since Facebook is one of the most affordable and effective forms of digital advertising.

4. Continuing to Post Organically on Facebook Is Still Important

The reasoning behind the Facebook boycott is to withhold advertising dollars so the company is forced to address the rampant hate speech and disinformation on its platform. But organic posting is free for your business and does not impact Facebook’s bottom line as significantly, therefore many companies are opting to continue to post organically during the boycott. Continuing to connect with your audience through organic posts, direct messages, and stories is important for maintaining your brand should you pause paid promotion.

5. Ensure All Social Media Messaging at the National and Local Levels Is Authentic, Consistent, and Sensitive

Any advertising or social media posting your brand distributes through national accounts or via local marketers must have messaging that authentically aligns with its mission, is consistent with its business history, and is sensitive to the current moment. This is a general rule of social media marketing, but it’s particularly critical in the midst of the Facebook advertising boycott and current social and political climates. Avoid co-opting movements that don’t align with your business’s actions, or you could swiftly fall from Internet grace as a victim of callout culture. Leave room for the voices at the forefront of social action rather than clogging up communication channels with vague statements of your own. Instead, focus on making internal improvements before expanding your business’s ethical high ground online.

As you consider whether to boycott Facebook or not, keep in mind that pulling your advertising should be a collaborative decision between brands and their local partners. It can be confusing to determine when it’s appropriate to show your business’s solidarity, halt advertising, or continue with business as usual. Working with social media experts who can manage your brand image at scale will help you make informed decisions about how your social media strategy can work in the best interest of your business, customers, and society as a whole.

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