Privacy is a rare commodity nowadays.

What with Facebook making it increasingly difficult to manage who sees what, and even the ephemeral SnapChat being revealed to not be all that ephemeral.

The privacy banana skin 

Users of social networks like Facebook and Twitter are becoming increasingly sensitive to privacy issues.

Everywhere I turn I see story after story about privacy invasion, hacking scandals and the most scary of them all, identity theft. The world is connected, and as a result so are all the bad guys.

But what about the impact on marketing, specifically digital marketing?

If the masses move into encrypted fortresses where data is transmitted back and forth with encryption keys sealing the data inside we as marketers are in a sticky situation.

Consumers will disappear off the grid, for good. More specifically we’ll lose the ability to be able to target them based on what they do, like and say.

The current agreement between users and social networks like Facebook is they can use the service for free so long as they continue to upload personal data to which advertisers can use for targeting.

It’s a relatively fair deal, millions of pounds a year is spent on server and staff costs in return for users submitting photos of their lives.

Facebook claw these costs back by charging companies a fee for advertising to their users using the data they’ve collected. 

The very black hole that is encryption

Imagine Facebook as a bright, airy room with people walking around with name tags on, freely exchanging information. “Hello, I can see you’re not in a relationship, let me pursue you across Facebook and other sites (using Facebook’s retargeting platform, FBX) and offer my dating app to you”.

Now imagine the complete opposite, a dark room, pitch black in fact, and the people are speaking a completely foreign language (jumbled up characters).

You’re trying to find one of them that is single and interested in “just fooling around”. Forget it, you’ll have more success with randomly canvassing. This is encryption, it’s like putting a blindfold over your eyes and asking you to try and accurately throw a dart.

How can marketers engage with users on encrypted social networks?

That’s just it, you can’t. If new networks like Syme and Fifteen take off - and they’re in the right place at the right time to do so - as marketers we’re going to lose the ability to communicate with our social fans and followers.

Sure, these apps/sites may encourage companies with Facebook-like pages and try and loop them in somehow, but they’ll still face the issue of not being able to access user data; that’s the whole point of encryption.

Admittedly there are different levels of encryption, but if the new social networks of tomorrow are really private, there will be nothing for companies to target upon other than an assumption. 


Marketers go where consumers hang out, and it looks possible that the relatively small number of consumers trying encrypted social networks could suddenly spike giving marketers a jolt.

My advice: keep your eyes peeled for the new breed of encrypted social networks that could soon to dominate the media.

Oh, and don’t for a minute believe that encrypted communications will be banned. The next thing they’ll ban will be whispering.

Simon Hawtin

Published 16 January, 2015 by Simon Hawtin

Simon Hawtin is Marketing Executive at RateSetter and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn

7 more posts from this author

You might be interested in

Comments (2)

George Cole

George Cole, Digital Marketing Manager at TN

Interesting article Simon - I've been thinking for a while that the tide could turn for free social networks. I think we'll end up with options to remove ads/pay for a level of privacy, similar to the justifications for Google encrypting keyword data in Analytics.

As a social media user, I'm ambivalent as to whether I'd use an encrypted social network (if that means paid) as I don't place a sufficiently high value on my social privacy given that I'm aware of how programmatic ads work based on my online behaviour. That said, I might spend more time on Facebook if my timeline was 100% friends and not (irrelevant) ads... As a digital marketer, I'm willing to take the punt that if encrypted networks = user fees, (however small), many people would stick with ads. If on the other hand, encryption becomes standard and free, I'd lose some highly effective/ROI generating retargeting options, which would be a shame.

I'm interested in whether you think an increase in available privacy options would de facto mean switching to a paid service, since ad revenue could fall off a cliff?

over 3 years ago

Simon Hawtin

Simon Hawtin, Marketing Executive at RateSetter

Hi George, that's a good point when you compare to what Google did with GA. It had a big effect on the SEO community just like what encrypting social networks would do for advertisers.

Facebook would only move to an encrypted model if they can prove users would pay for the feature, and that the revenue earned from it would be greater than ad revenue. At the moment I'm with you that the majority of social media advocates are happy with the risks of their data being fairly unprotected. I do however see this concern getting bigger and bigger as time goes by. The more technology invades our lives, the more privacy we give away, the greater the demand for encrypted services.

So to answer the question, I think it will happen over time when encrypted social networks are able to demonstrate publicly their benefits vs the likes of Facebook and Twitter. However, I don't believe people will just abandon Facebook, instead they'll spend less time on these platforms sharing more general things (like the viral videos) and the intimate parts of their lives will be shared with their closest friends on encrypted networks. Thus there will still be a place for advertising on social media, it'll just get less airtime.

over 3 years ago

Save or Cancel

Enjoying this article?

Get more just like this, delivered to your inbox.

Keep up to date with the latest analysis, inspiration and learning from the Econsultancy blog with our free Digital Pulse newsletter. You will receive a hand-picked digest of the latest and greatest articles, as well as snippets of new market data, best practice guides and trends research.