Commentary

Facebook's Changes To 'Partner Categories' Means Headaches For Marketers

Maybe you thought that Facebook’s fake news, newsfeed algorithm changes, and metric miscalculations were going to be the worst of it. Well, now Cambridge Analytica and larger privacy issues have pushed Facebook’s week of hell into, potentially, months of disruption for advertisers.

Last Thursday, marketers woke up to a well-scripted email from their Facebook platform reps outlining that, based on recent events, they decided to do away with Third Party Audience Data Partners. This was only one of the three-plus announcements we received last week outlining major changes (removing reach from custom audiences and reducing the amount of data that apps can request).

What are partner categories?

Partner categories came to Facebook a little over five years ago to provide behavior data that is tied to each individual user. One way this data is collected is via loyalty cards from different grocery chains. They also have information such as household income, credit score, and even what car you just bought.  Advertisers would use these audience segments to find the most relevant shopper to buy their product or services.  

What is changing?

In May, audiences built with users from the UK, Germany, and France will be discontinued. In June, you will no longer be able to create new ad sets using any third-party audience, and on Oct. 1 ads using these audiences will stop running. 

Why is it changing?

Facebook has a responsibility to its users to not only protect its data but not exploit it in ways that are misleading, at the very least, and, potentially, creepy at worst. Consumers already know that they are being followed around the internet, but do we need to follow them from store to store?

These changes and timeline are also aligned with GDPR in the European Union. In short, starting this summer we will be back to native audiences based on interests and self-reported data. If you aren't familiar with GDPR, I recommend checking out additional details as they take privacy and data protection to a new level in the digital age.

What does this mean for advertisers?

Well, if you were planning on having a relevant reach strategy that leverages purchased-based audiences, you will be spending the next few weeks researching and building new strategies. At our agency, for example, we work across healthcare, CPG, and e-commerce; and all three categories leverage these audiences. We never commit to a paid social strategy long-term, as this industry shifts very fast and allows us to be scrappy and innovative in a short timeframe.  

Advertisers will now have to reinvent paid strategies based on audience criteria and find similar overlaps. Media buyers and planners will need to test and learn towards KPI’s to identify new opportunities for their clients along with explore other ways to capture this data. Such ways could be working with partners to live-ramp data in via old methods of purchasing data beforehand (assuming Facebook doesn’t kill this). There will be a lot of test-and-learn opportunities to compensate for the learning phase of shifting strategies that hit client goals. 

Advertisers will want to make sure that they explore alternative platforms such as Pinterest, Twitter, Snapchat. As we monitor performance over the coming months, it will be important to revaluate each platform targeting capabilities. Twitter and Snapchat still work with many of these data providers in some capacity.

Is this good, bad, or meh?

Facebook will defend its stance that advertisers always come second to the user. Up until the last six months I would have disagreed with that statement. Facebook has begun taking more proactive steps to ensure the user experience is the best. I'm confident that Facebook is not going anywhere (even with #DeleteFacebook trending ... even on Facebook). 

At the end of the day, these changes are proactive based on the need of the current ecosystem, and the changes do help protect the user. Facebook typically restricts ad function when something else is better. But, since this isn't the case, you can expect that it will be working on new ad tools that keep advertisers interested in the complex and powerful Facebook advertising system.

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