Analytics & Data

Does Facebook’s Data Debacle Impact Advertisers?

Facebook is an enormously powerful advertising tool. There is no better mix of users, placements, and targeting. Sure, you have keywords with Google, and even audiences, but not with the precision and quality of Facebook. And you can’t scale hyper-targeted ads on AdWords.

But, in the wake of Facebook’s data-sharing scandal, will these benefits go away? Facebook has already announced there would be changes. Some are immediate. Others are coming in phases throughout the year.

In this post, I’ll address what has changed, what is coming, and how to make the most of it all.

Current Changes

Let’s start with what’s here: the removal of audience reach and lookalikes from custom audiences. Before, it was possible to layer demographic information onto a custom audience to work backward and identify individuals on a list in more detail. But Facebook has removed this feature for now. Advertisers are, in essence, flying a bit blind.

  • Impact. Advertisers cannot establish rough budgets because they won’t be able to see audience sizes with custom and lookalike audiences.
  • What to do. Give yourself a higher budget and lower bid, or a higher bid and lower budget, and see if you have delivery issues. If you don’t, you have plenty of audience members to work with.

Remember, lookalike audiences are typically 1 to 10 percent of a country’s population before additional targeting is applied. One percent of the U.S. population is 2.1 million. This change means you’ll have to check your accounts more often. But it doesn’t affect anything functional.

Upcoming Changes

Here’s what’s coming. Some are major, functional changes.

Partner categories. First is the removal of partner categories over the next six months. Why is this is a big deal? To be sure, a lookalike audience will often be your best targeting option by far — if you have the data. If not, you have to make your own audiences until you can funnel enough users to build a reliable lookalike.

Partner categories provided an added layer to help create these hyper-specific audiences. While interests such as page likes will remain a targeting feature, demographic factors such as household income and buying categories will go away.

  • Impact. You won’t be able to add additional data cuts like income or buying habits.
  • What to do. If you don’t have a lot of audience members, or you rely heavily on income layers and other demographics, start creating these audiences now. Get as many people onto your list as possible to use for lookalike audiences in the future.

If you only use behavioral targeting, rethink your strategy. Interest targeting will remain. It’s similar to behavioral, but not as specific. View this as an opportunity to diversify your ad strategy.

Ad visibility. Another upcoming change is the ability to see all Facebook ads that were placed by each page. Facebook is testing this in Canada. This change stems from the controversy surrounding political ads. Facebook is trying to provide transparency to users about the ads from each page.

  • Impact. All of your active ads will be visible to anyone on your Facebook page by simply visiting it.
  • What to do. Nothing. Facebook will roll this out in the U.S. over the coming months. Competitors will be able to see your ads, but you’ll be able to see theirs, too, as well as some basic targeting info. For industrious advertisers, this competitor intelligence could be a benefit.

Permissions for custom audiences. This stems from the upcoming data-protection rules launching in the E.U. on May 25. Companies that serve Europeans or otherwise store or use data from Europe need to obtain consent from those users as to how the data can be used and why it’s necessary. Companies also must provide the ability for users to easily delete the data. Thus advertisers must get consent to store or use this data. If you’re uploading email addresses, you’ll need to certify how you obtained them.

  • Impact. To upload custom audiences, advertisers will encounter extra certification steps (still unknown) to certify that data was obtained properly.
  • What to do. Nothing. You should always have custom audiences that are built from people who gave their permission to be on your list and to receive marketing communications. This is nothing more than a formality for reputable advertisers.

Don’t Panic

There’s no need for advertisers to panic. The changes could be uncomfortable for some businesses that don’t have diverse advertising strategies or are secretive. But similar changes have happened before. For example, Facebook removed the ability to target by profession last year.

Handle data responsibly, create high-quality ads, and send users to high-quality websites. No advertiser that I know is quitting Facebook.

Michael Stancil
Michael Stancil
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