Image via Nicole De Khors under CC0

The Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook’s algorithmic turbulence, API changes, and the arrival of GDPR—2018 brought big shifts to our industry.

As we enter the final days of 2018, I’d like to take a look back at the 8 moments that changed social media this year. I’ll also offer a few actionable tips and resources you can use to adapt to these new changes.

While I’m looking in the rearview mirror, our research team at Hootsuite has been busy researching the future. On December 5th, we launch our 2019 Social Trends report and webinar. You’ll learn the new forces shaping social media in 2019. Save your spot here.

8 of the biggest social media moments in 2018

1. The great Facebook algorithmic update of 2018

The year began with a roar. On January 11th, the Prince of Palo Alto, Mark Zuckerberg, made an announcement on his personal Facebook page.

“We’ve gotten feedback from our community that public content—posts from businesses, brands and media—is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other,” Mr. Zuckerberg explained.

In a follow-up press release, Adam Mosseri, Head of News Feed, explained that Facebook’s algorithm would “prioritize posts from friends and family over public content.”

In particular, Facebook took specific aim at the following types of content:

  • Public content, including videos and other posts from publishers or businesses
  • “Engagement-bait” content designed to artificially spark conversations (or enrage) people
  • News-focused content, especially publishers with little-known brands or niche topics (read: fake news and extremist politics).

While it was clear that content would have a harder time gaining organic traction, Facebook suggested new ways for brands to approach content distribution on Facebook.

For example, Facebook explicitly stated that “page posts that generate conversation between people will show higher in News Feed.” Live videos, for example, often create more discussion and interaction than passive content. According to internal data from Facebook, live videos on average get six times as many interactions as regular videos.

Facebook Groups—which now count 100 million members—have also been touted as new sources for brands to build customer communities and increase their organic reach.

2. Mark Zuckerberg heads to Congress

In 2018, data privacy took center stage. Soon after the Cambridge Analytica scandal—in which a political consultancy accessed 87 million Facebook profiles—Zuckerberg was called to Congress. He testified at two hearings in two days, with 10 hours of questioning from 91 lawmakers.

Zuckerberg’s appearance in Congress was political theatre. But marketers felt the effects of this political pressure. Facebook soon restricted access to their APIs, (affecting platforms like Hootsuite and our competitors), restricted ad targeting options, and reduced many of the granular ways marketers could target with features such as custom audiences.

3. The hammer of GDPR falls

If you’re like me, you’ve been leaking personal data all over the internet since 1999. Weak passwords, my indiscriminate clicking of ‘Which Friends Character Are You?’ Facebook quizzes—my privacy life is a hot mess!

While consumers tend to leak data online, The General Data Protection Regulation (or GDPR) is designed to protect them against unscrupulous companies.

As one lawyer eloquently put it, “The GDPR is an attempt to strengthen, harmonize, and modernize EU data protection law and enhance individual rights and freedoms, consistent with the European understanding of privacy as a fundamental human right.”

In the past, it was assumed that things like social security numbers, physical addresses, email addresses were personal. But GDPR expanded the scope of personal information to include things that marketers typically exploit such as IP addresses, behavioral data, location data, biometric data, financial information, and much more.

If you work at a large company, you likely had a team responsible for making sure your marketing programs are GDPR compliant.

If you work as a consultant or at a smaller company, do you really need to care about GDPR?

Yep. Especially if you are doing the following things in your marketing:

  • Collecting emails including using pop-ups or lead ads on Facebook
  • Using web analytics to track user behavior (The standard “we use cookies to improve your experience” pop-up is not enough to comply with GDPR regulation)
  • Exporting or importing data with Facebook’s Custom Audiences

Complying with GDPR takes a bit of work and would be too much to explain in this blog post. This resource from Reforge, a growth marketing blog, is the most practical guide I’ve found. It also includes a fantastic explanation of what consent means in a GDPR world.

4. IGTV and Facebook Watch go global