Following the Cambridge Analytica revelations in March Facebook dramatically increased its paid search spend in Australia to “manage its way out of the scandal”, according to research from SEMrush.

The data, shared exclusively with Which-50,  demonstrates the social media giant’s spend on paid search skyrocketed after it was revealed Facebook data had been harvested for nefarious purposes.

Source: SEMrush

“Facebook has previously invested fairly modestly in paid search advertising, whereas its closest competitor, Google has maintained a significant spend on search over time,” SEMrush told Which-50.

“But this has all changed recently, and it probably has something to do with the tech giant, trying to overcome the effect on its brand image of the series of scandals it has been plagued with in the past year.”

SEMrush offers digital marketing tools that provide analytics on top advertisers and publishers, claiming to provide “insights into your competitors’ strategies in display advertising, organic and paid search, and link building”.

Facebook’s paid search increase coincided with several non digital campaigns as Facebook attempted to repair its brand following more allegations of unauthorised data sharing, and a willing failure to remove extreme content.

The scandals appear to have cut through with customers. Half of Australians now distrust social media and Facebook is the least trusted social media company. By late July Facebook’s share price tanked as user growth began to slow.

Back story

The story first broke as a result of a joint investigation by The Observer and The New York Times in March, but many in the industry familiar with the way Facebook operates initially underestimated the magnitude of the story. So did Facebook.

To most people outside of the marketing sector the revelations seemed shocking — the use of social data to target the aspirations and fears of consumers — yet it is basically the standard operating procedure for your typical digital marketer.

As we reported at the time, what Cambridge Analytica did wasn’t new. Indeed, that was how the Facebook platform for developers was designed to work at the time.

Which-50 writer John Birmingham noted on his Alien Side Boob blog (on Facebook, ironically), “Mark Zuckerberg’s complaint that what they did was unauthorised and unfair is like a mad scientist complaining, ‘I built a monster-making machine, and people used it to make monsters’.”

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