By Zach Chastain

2019 Industry Update: April

Facebook and its users change their relationship status to “It’s Complicated”

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To paraphrase that brand new song from Big Sean, “Facebook took an L, but it looks to bounce back.” 2018 was a difficult year for Facebook, beginning with the Cambridge Analytica scandal and capping it with a data breach in October that saw 30 million users’ private data stolen by hackers. A recent Harris Poll saw Facebook receive the largest drop in reputation ranking–dropping from a 51 ranking in 2018 to a 94 ranking in 2019 (with 100 being the worst reputation score). This put Facebook behind Goldman Sachs and ahead of only Dish, Wells Fargo, Sears, the Trump Organization, Phillip Morris, and the United States Government. The aforementioned dip in reputation is not the only cause of concern for Facebook recently. In its Infinite Dial report, Edison Research saw the number of monthly users on Facebook decrease by 15 million since 2017, with many of those jumping ship, skewing younger. So, how does Facebook look to bounce back?

Facebook’s Renewed Interest in Privacy

In a March Facebook post titled “A Privacy-Focused Vision For Social Networking, Mark Zuckerberg informed his community of the emphasis Facebook would be placing on privacy–a leading factor in both its dip in overall reputation and users flocking away. In the post, Zuckerberg had this to say on the new approach: “We don’t currently have a strong reputation for building privacy protective services, and we’ve historically focused on tools for more open sharing, but we’ve repeatedly shown that we can evolve to build the services that people really want.” He went on to speak on the importance of encrypted messaging as a way to increase privacy, especially through Facebook-owned WhatsApp. Encryption, he said, will help prevent companies and governments from tapping into users’ messaging and information. All this to say, Facebook wants to achieve the inverse of a popular Hall and Oates song with private eyes not watching you.

Pumping the Brakes on Hyper-targeting

According to an article published by The Washington Post, Facebook has recently overhauled its targeted advertising platform for job, loan and housing ads. This comes after a backlash stemming from accusations that users were discriminated against via the platform. For advertisers looking to reach potential housing, credit, and job leads, Facebook has withheld certain demographic information–including gender, age, and zip code. The practice of utilizing demographic indicators initially propelled Facebook to the forefront of targeted advertising. Lacking the ability to effectively target real estate ads will be the biggest hindrance to real estate advertisers.

While gender is a less valuable targeting option for real estate, disallowing advertisers to market to users based on age or income will be the biggest hindrance. For real estate marketers, age-based targeting is a huge differentiator. If you know what life stage your product would be most appealing to, being able to only target those people with a message that is appropriate for that segment of your audience is a powerful way to optimize spend. Considering that Facebook and Google both use zip code data to inform their income-based targeting options, this likely also means the end of targeting by household income for real estate ads on Facebook, another significant loss for marketers who are advertising both primary residences and second homes.

Where Do We Go from Here?

As mentioned, Facebook is looking to bounce back after taking hits that, for smaller companies, could have been fatal. Changes to privacy and targeting can only improve Facebook’s suffering reputation. After ranking 94 out of 100, the only way to move is up.  Barring any unforeseen circumstances, we can hope to see Facebook move up in the 2020 reputation rankings.

When it comes to advertising jobs, real estate, and loans on Facebook, marketers are going to have to significantly shift their strategies in order to find new opportunities to optimize spend. If marketers aren’t able to adapt their strategies on Facebook, they’re likely to begin shifting their ad spend to other platforms with fewer targeting restrictions.