Buyers beware, the consultants are coming post-Facebook grilling on Capitol Hill


In the immediate aftermath of the Facebook hearings, salespeople and consultants are lining up to get yet another dip in your enterprise wallet. Don’t be tempted.

Facebook is top of mind for media and understandably so. As the behemoth’s beleaguered CEO demonstrated, you can be in deep trouble and yet emerge relatively unscathed from a BBQ’ing on Capitol Hill.

Having reviewed a number of reports, my view is that while Facebook will make lots of noise about fixing things, legislation to regulate internet giants like Facebook is a long way away. The same cannot be said of the consultants who make their living selling FUD as their first weapon of choice. Check out this snapshot from my LinkedIn profile.

View stats on my LinkedIn for Congress v Facebook

While it is always gratifying to see a reasonable number of people viewed the summary – and LinkedIn brought 53% of the traffic to date, thanks – it is the analysis of who looked at the story that interests me.

Follow the money?

Do you notice how the folk who most looked at this come from consultancies and that it is both salespeople and consultants who are eyeing it up? In what could they possibly be interested? The answer is simple – easy pickings from buyers who are unsure what to do about Facebook as part of their marketing strategies or move towards all things digital.

We see variations of this all the time in enterprise land. Right now, the topic du jour is reinvention digital transformation style. Boards of directors are mandating that managements ‘do’ a ‘digital transformation’ which, one assumes includes getting into sensor data, machine and deep learning (both of which feature heavily in Facebook’s modus operandi) plus a slew of other ‘stuff.’

But the feedback we’re getting suggests that the extent to which management has a passing understanding of what’s needed is low to nil. You can see this problem bubbling up in reports from the likes of Horses for Sources where, at a recent FORA event, 40% of the polled audience admitted they didn’t know what they were going to do about retraining staff impacted by automation.

As Horses Chief Troublemaker CEO Phil Fersht screamed, the likes of Gartner flip-flopping over job creation is unhelpful:

The technology industry has thrived on the hype for decades, but in the past, it was usually based on established technologies and their real impact on business, proven through many client experiences and tested through time to help us all understand the ultimate impact on business models.  Suddenly, many leading experts are making judgments based on possibilities, not realities.  The tech suppliers love the hype because it convinces clients to invest, but the more confusing this all becomes, the more dangerous this hype becomes in turning off smart C-Suite executives who need to see real results before making real investments.

Careers are on the line with automation and AI, and the more embedded these technologies become in organizations, the more clients need real data and real evidence to create their roadmap for them.  Outlandish claims like this are getting shot down faster than ever, and we need, as an industry, to stop pandering to the marketeers and panic-mongers and start having a realistic conversation.

The Facebook quotient

Where does Facebook fit into all of this? Last week, Ben Thompson had a view that encapsulates much of what we see:

The most likely outcome of Facebook’s current scandal continues to be that nothing will happen, for all of the inherent lethargy in our political system noted above. And, if something does, European-style data regulation seems the more likely outcome, as I noted last month. No wonder Facebook’s stock was up after the hearing!

It’s worth keeping in mind, though, that because Facebook is so dominant, the question of its governance is ultimately a political question, and to that end the shifts in the terms of debate, if not yet its outcome, have been striking. Zuckerberg is in Washington D.C., everyone says something must be done, and critically, both sides have ideas about what that should be; while this certainly may be mostly a Facebook problem, the rest of the industry should take note.

(My emphasis added)

The problem for those who use Facebook as part of their marketing is in the ‘most likely’ pieces of this puzzle. I hesitate to apply a Gartner-esque probability rating because we all know how those predictions turn out – badly.

But the very fact that no-one really knows creates the ‘Uncertainty and Doubt’ part of the FUD equation that is so loved by consultants. Given that the GDPR compliance deadline is just over a month away (and here, Facebook’s position is at best murky) and you have the F for Fear to complete the FUD equation.

This is music to salespeople’s ears because now, and without having to do a moment’s additional research, they can confidently contact customers suggesting that consulting time would be well spent creating alternative scenarios and preparing accordingly. There’s a double dip in the offering right there.

‘The rest of the industry’ piece of the puzzle helps to amplify this further because now consultants can start to rope in topics around Instagram, Twitter, Google and – yes – LinkedIn. It all makes perfect sense – if you’re a salesperson or consultant.

What should a decision maker do?

While I have said ‘beware’ there is still plenty to think about.

Job number one is to separate fact from fiction. Sure, Facebook has a slew of problems but nothing has fundamentally changed. If you believe the furtherance of your digital marketing strategy is tied to Facebook (we question that for commercial reasons in B2B) AND you are spending with them, then it behooves buyers to get explanatory statements in writing from Facebook about policy and access changes.

Of greater concern to buyers should be the obfuscation or avoidance in answering specific questions, especially those related to data handling. We have a 10-question crib sheet for UK lawmakers but it could easily be adapted for the informed buyer.

Next, remember that while digital transformation might be seeing its greatest emphasis in marketing departments, we consistently advise that any talk of this kind is a wholesale change. A series of point solutions won’t get you to where you want to be. Check our latest thinking about XaaS and consider how to construct meaningful and deliverable roadmaps for that.

Recognize that while much noise has been made of consumer-grade privacy being non-existent, enterprise vendors have seen this coming for a very long time and can give you pointers about where your thinking should be going for B2B.

So while the issues raised by the Facebook scandal may be of current interest, they are really a prequel to the kinds of question any business should be asking itself. That should happen well before bringing in consultants to help flesh out the bones of newly discovered and possible strategy choices.

In the meantime, beware those salespeople and consultants. An atmosphere of uncertainty is music to their wallets but it may easily turn out to be a waste of your time and…your money. If you need those folks, make sure they are laser-focused on solving your problems, not problems that are imagined.

A final note. The next stage in the unfolding Facebook saga will come on April 26th when Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer is grilled in front of a UK Parliamentary Committee. You might learn a lot more then so don’t take any quick decisions.

Image credit - Story image via the author, featured image via istock

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