Patrick O’Neill Managing Partner of Sherlock Communications and named Latin America’s Best PR Professional 2020 by PR Week Awards
Companies targeting Latin American consumers through Facebook advertising, be warned: You may be hurting your brand in the region. The platform has come under fire for its refusal to regulate marketing that has been found to contain and spread misleading or false information. Many of the cases have surrounded political issues, but during the coronavirus pandemic, it has also seeped into public health care issues, prompting Facebook to remove political ads that contain coronavirus misinformation.
While Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg likened vetting political ads to a form of censorship, a recent survey in Latin America found nearly 90% of the population believe the platform should check and reject political advertising that contains lies. That is particularly significant as it proves this is not a party issue but rather crosses the political divide. Left, right, center: Nobody likes being deceived.
It may appear in the United States that Facebook’s grip is so strong it could not possibly fail. You need only to look at Orkut, which in 2010 remained the market leader in Brazil with 36 million users even while Facebook was dominating other regions, to see the feeling in Minneapolis or San Francisco cannot be presumed equal to that of Montevideo or San José.
Latin America is experiencing a huge disruption in social media options. With alternative networks growing rapidly in the region and grappling for market share, the risk to Facebook is real. The rise of TikTok is an obvious example, but we can also point to the likes of Kuaishou and Yubo, both of which are aimed primarily at a young demographic and enjoying great success.
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Chinese platform Kuaishou has been downloaded more than 200,000 times in Brazil alone with no promotion, while Yubo is a French app actively moving away from the status-focused, pressure-filled model of Facebook and Twitter.
It is common knowledge that Latin Americans are hugely connected and engaged, and experiment often with new apps. However, the high cost of smartphones means many settle for a device with lower memory capacity. Less memory naturally means fewer apps, and when deciding which to ditch, those that do not meet their personal values will be first in the trash.
Facebook has been taking steps to curb the spread of fake news across all its platforms by reducing the reach of posts flagged by its third-party fact-checking service, increasing the security of political accounts, and removing the advertising function from pages found to repeatedly share fake news. Despite this, it was still accused of acting as a vehicle to spread misinformation during Colombia’s 2016 peace treaty referendum, Brazil’s 2018 presidential elections, and Argentina’s 2019 presidential elections. For marketing agencies, serious consideration must be taken regarding whether it is still the best platform with which to associate your client or brand.
In Brazil, where political polarization increased after the elections, think tank FGV DAPP highlighted a jump in bot activity on Twitter, and Congress debated tougher punishment for fake news that represents a threat to fair elections. Compare that to Chile, where social media was widely used in 2019 protests as both a space for expression and a place to organize demonstrations.
There are other products that will likely provide other opportunities. WhatsApp and Instagram both enjoy an incredible market share in Latin America, and with WhatsApp launching a money transfer function and Instagram helping small businesses grow, there are tangible benefits to both.
For marketers looking to reach a Latin American audience and keen to ensure their messaging is deemed trustworthy, the advice then is simple: research, research, research. The most common mistake foreign companies make when trying to break into the region is presuming the most popular platforms at home are the same here. Latin America is fluid, so investigate your target market and discover what platforms it prefers.
And don’t discount the value of traditional media. For example, due to the vast size of Brazil, radio is still one of the most effective ways to reach the entire nation. During one market research study that we carried out, radio was the only medium that returned responses from all 27 states in the country. Ultimately though, the main lesson here is marketing agencies should ignore their audience at their peril.
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Author: Patrick O’Neill, Forbes Councils Member