Recently, Facebook has not been able to stay out of the headlines. They have been under heavy scrutiny for a number of different occurrences. They have been making major changes to their product to mitigate the issues that they have had with “Fake News” that is believed to have had an influence on the United States Presidential Election. Tensions were finally calming down with the incident until gasoline was poured on the fire with the story of Cambridge Analytica.
If you haven’t heard this news yet, the long story short is that user data was sold to a third party and used for malintentions. This incident has put Facebook back in the hot seat and the pressure for change is even stronger than before. In reaction to this occurrence, Facebook made a MAJOR change to the targeting capabilities on their platform this week. Facebook announced through their Newsroom Blog that,
“We want to let advertisers know that we will be shutting down Partner Categories. This product enables third party data providers to offer their targeting directly on Facebook. While this is common industry practice, we believe this step, winding down over the next six months, will help improve people’s privacy on Facebook”.
Partner Categories on Facebook refer to targeting capabilities that can only be created with the help of Data Mining Companies. The way it works is that Facebook runs consumer data through their platform and finds matches to be able to create targeting capabilities. For example, if you use a Ralphs loyalty card to get discounts on your groceries, Ralphs than sells your information to these Data Mining companies. Then the data mining companies sell the Data to Facebook and they match up email addresses and phone numbers with their internal data. Then, advertisers are able to target people who purchase specific brand within their Facebook campaigns.
Once it reaches the advertiser level, it is all anonymous so they aren’t able to actually see who is within each group, but the level of granularity is what concerns people in terms of their privacy. This practice is nothing new in the Marketing World. Data has been being sold for many years now and no one has had a problem with this, but with the increased scrutiny Facebook is receiving right now they are trying to be proactive in saving their company’s image.
There are hundreds of these Partner Categories that are available and they were provided by the following Companies within their respective countries:
- Australia: Acxiom, Experian, Greater Data, and Quantium
- Brazil: Experian
- France: Acxiom
- Germany: Acxiom
- Japan: Acxiom and CCC
- United Kingdom: Acxiom, Experian, and Oracle Data Cloud (formerly DLX)
- United States: Acxiom, Epsilon, Experian, Oracle Data Cloud (formerly DLX), TransUnion, and WPP
Below is an example of what the Partner Categories looked like within the engine:
This example shows the ability to target a user who is the market for a new full-size sedan within the next year. As you can see the level of granularity you can obtain is rather intrusive, but as mentioned before this has been a common practice for years.
All in all, this is a big setback in terms of the targeting you are able to utilize on Facebook, but it really only impacts new customer prospecting. My prediction is that this is not the end of rollbacks on Facebook’s targeting. It has become a common joke that Facebook is “listening”. People feel like their privacy is being infringed upon which will most likely result in more rollbacks because at the end of the day the platform is only as valuable as the number of people that use it. Am I saying this is the end of Facebook Advertising? No, not at all, but what I am saying is that there is going to have to be major innovations in the field on how to capture your customers’ attention as the ability to hyper-target becomes harder and harder.
The main way to do that is to continue producing high-quality content. If your strategy is centered around providing people with valuable content that they want to engage with, you can’t lose. You may be sending it to a slightly wider audience, but your audience will identify themselves by engaging with your content. Innovation is a result of change and as the late great Steve Jobs said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” You can bet we see this as a major opportunity to get innovative and we hope you do too. So get to the drawing board and get creative.