Earlier this year, Facebook was confronted about data privacy issues in an episode many are calling “The Cambridge Analytica Scandal” (my unsolicited opinion). In the weeks that followed, Facebook aggressively made moves with the intent of bolstering user’s confidence in the platform. Unsurprisingly, many of these changes directly impacted their advertising platform. After an initial wave of changes in May, the farthest-reaching changes were just updated on June 1st.
The following blog post is designed to give you a realistic look at what exactly changed, and how it will (or won’t) impact you.
Beware of the fearmongers
Remember the funny scene in Monty Python about The Knights Who Say “Ni!”? I’ll save you a search – here’s the link. As much as I love the humor, it almost makes me mad in the context of our discussion. In the same way The Knights Who Say Ni! needlessly scare their traveling victims by muttering a harmless phrase, today there are digital marketers who are leveraging these recent Facebook changes as a scare tactic in what ultimately amounts to gimmicky clickbait. I cannot have an objective discussion about this topic without urging you to take any sensational sounding stories you hear with a grain of salt.
Facebook isn’t going anywhere
Have you been following the Facebook stock? Let’s just say that if you bought a few grand of stock at their IPO, you would have exactly one metric crap ton of money. Wanna know where all that money comes from? It comes from advertising. Yes, Facebook is the world’s largest social network, but that’s not where the money is. The everyday users of Facebook are the product – advertisers are the buyers, and that isn’t going to change any time in the near future. Facebook ads have become some of the most coveted online real estate for advertisers seeking to reach specific audience segments, and the majority of the targeting that makes Facebook special remains intact.
What has actually changed?
While Facebook has many changes slated to roll out in 2018, two primary changes were put in place on June 1st. First, Facebook started phasing out the use of third party data targeting. Second, Facebook has begun implementing ways for consumers to understand how advertisers are targeting them with ads. Next we’ll dive in to each of these specifically, and then I’ll do my best to show you how this will (or won’t) impact your campaigns.
No more third-party data (kinda)
Up until June 1st, Facebook allowed several data partners (companies like Acxiom, Epsilon, Experian, Dun & Bradstreet and Oracle) to provide highly specific audience data directly to advertisers through the Facebook API. Essentially, we were able to leverage these third-party data aggregator’s targeting options through the native API. Facebook announced in their senate hearings on April 9-10th that they would discontinue the use of third party data targeting on their platform. On June 1st, these audience segments were removed from the native targeting options within the Facebook platform. While some advertisers will be allowed to continue using this data on active ads for a few more weeks, it will eventually be removed entirely.
More transparency on advertiser targeting
The second change that occurred on June 1st was an effort to provide users more visibility into how advertisers target them with ads. Before these changes were made, Facebook provided little or no transparency to everyday users about how advertisers acquired their information. The result was hauntingly accurate targeting based off actions that did not occur on the Facebook platform. Today users can not only see detailed information about how they are being targeted, they also have the ability to see all the ads a particular advertiser is running (just for fun, here are the ads that the Donald J Trump Facebook page is currently running).
What does it all mean?
Does all of this sound a little bit foreign to you? Let me cut to the chase and give you what you really want – a clear cut description of how these changes will impact your campaigns. At Steep, we have been big proponents of using targeting that relates to financial demographics, and we’ve used third party data to find people with high income, net worth and liquid assets.
So, with the removal of these demographics from the platform, are we totally screwed? Not at all! Facebook has many other ways to target consumers (here’s an infographic that shows a complete list of targeting options). We’ll still be able to leverage many of the other targeting options that will indicate a high-net worth consumer.
Additionally, just because Facebook isn’t handing us demographic details on a silver platter directly through their ad platform doesn’t mean we cannot get this data ourselves and push it into the ads platform. In fact, we’ve been doing this for months with a high degree of success, and these changes have only increased our ability to acquire good data from third-party vendors.
Finally, the millions of dollars we’ve spent advertising in the past year has given us our own unique audience building tools that we can leverage for highly detailed targeting. As we run campaigns for hundreds of clients across the country each month, we track all of our traffic with a tool called the Facebook pixel. With this tool we can discern exactly how users behave on our pages, and in doing so we train Facebook’s algorithm to display our ads to exactly the right users. With millions of impressions to high-net-worth prospects across the country, we’re able to use this data to find other similar users with or without third party data.
The last word
Marketing is a lot like shooting at a moving target – the minute you think you have it all figured out, something ch-ch-ch-ch-changes. If this is your first experience weathering a significant digital shift – this all may seem pretty scary. In reality, we’ve experienced changes like this several times in the past. At the end of the day, Facebook is one of the most valuable companies on the planet because of their unique way of delivering the right ads to the right people. These recent changes are legitimate corrections Facebook needed to make in order to have longevity as an advertising source and instill confidence in their vast user base.
Things will always be changing, but so long as Facebook has millions of advertisers lining up to pay for real estate in people’s news feeds, we’ll always be able to target the right people with the right message at the right time. So, press on with confidence, ignore the click-bait marketers screaming “the sky is falling”, and leverage one of the most powerful advertising platforms on the planet to grow your practice with digital marketing.