What does GDPR mean for social media?

With only a couple of months to go until General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force on May 28th, the EU is preparing to make a few changes to the way companies store and work with data. But with its changes having profound effects on some marketing methods, we take a look at how social media may well be the answer.

First off, what is GDPR?

It’s a new set of rules and regulations that are designed to improve how much control individuals have over their personal data. It’s being hailed as “the most important change to data privacy regulation in 20 years”. Coming into effect on 25th May 2018, it will apply to all 28 Member States of the EU. “But what about Brexit!?” we hear you cry. Well, the UK Government has already published a draft Data Protection Bill which has been closely aligned to GDPR, meaning the legislation will remain in force even after we leave the EU.

The regulations relate to legitimate use of information, so essentially, businesses will have to ask permission to use a subjects personal data and supply a reason for using it. ‘Opt-in’ will replace ‘opt-out’ when it comes to all marketing communications. This will effectively put an end to companies storing excessive dormant data, as going forward, once they have no use for the information, it will have to be deleted.

What does it mean for marketers?

In theory, the changes mean that your customers will now have to opt-in to receive any marketing messages that require use of their personal data. Whilst that all sounds straightforward enough, common sense – and research – both point to the fact that most users will not want to receive more marketing than they currently do, especially when it comes to the likes of email.

A 2017 survey by the DMA showed that a quarter of companies were not on target to meet GDPR requirements. Whilst this is a scary thought, it may just mean that many companies simply move away from email and DM as marketing tools.

But how does that relate to social media?

Well, with what may well end up being a large hole in the marketing mix, we may well see more companies turning to social media to provide targeted communications to their customers without having to worry about their data privacy. Social media can provide many companies with a captive audience that have already chosen to opt-in to your marketing through follows or page likes.

In addition to this, social media’s appeal lies in the fact that the platforms will be doing most of the leg work when it comes to GDPR themselves, leaving companies free to continue to engage with audiences without having to worry about obtaining their consent.

Facebook has already been vocal about its commitment to GDPR, saying that it takes data protection very seriously and is committed to transparency, control and accountability. They have even brought in a crack team to deal with the changes and the massive task of educating their uses on the new guidelines.

YouTube has already started making the changes, recently allowing users to hide data relating to their geographic location and subscription status, effectively removing it from their system.

In theory, the changes mean that social media sites including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram will no longer be able to store user data that isn’t necessary to the everyday running of the platform. They will also have to get users’ consent if they wish to use it in any other ways, i.e. for targeted advertising. However, the code does allow social platforms to freely use data that doesn’t allow an individual user to be traced such as likes, dislikes and behaviours on their platforms.

So, is social media the answer?

Well yes, in a lot of ways, it is. It will allow marketers to continue to carefully target groups of people based on their behaviours without having to worry about getting into hot water with data. There are, at the moment, a couple of potential downsides.

The first is that the change will likely see an influx in paid advertising on social media. Platforms are cluttered as it is, and it’s already harder than ever to grow organically, especially when you try to grow a new page. The second issue, a firmer nail in the coffin, is that with reduction (or even a total redaction) of user data – for example, demographics – it will be even more difficult for marketers to target their audiences.

Social media may be the answer for now, but it’s not clear sailing – it will be more important than ever for marketers to use their social media presences to build organic reach and engagement amongst their audiences. The introduction of the new GDPR will likely change platforms irrevocably, with the definition of those audiences fading into obscurity.


Danielle Wilde

Marketing Manager