The past couple of years have been a tumultuous time for business owners and marketers who use Facebook to reach new audiences and connect with fans. There have been numerous changes about what can be posted, who can run what kinds of ads and how ads are targeted. Many of these changes are announced months in advance, but they still pack a punch when they happen. Recently, after of months of preparing advertisers, Facebook removed more than 5,000 ad filters from the targeting options.
Facebook and other social media platforms have come under increased scrutiny for the way their platforms are misused. This goes beyond the issues with political campaigns or the malicious spread of inaccurate information. Just recently, Facebook was accused of contributing to housing and job discrimination by allowing advertisers to fine-tune campaigns so that certain groups are purposefully targeted or excluded. Removing the sensitive ad filters could help prevent business owners from unintentionally creating discriminating ads.
"We're committed to protecting people from discriminatory advertising on our platforms," Facebook explained in a recent blog post. "That's why we're removing over 5,000 targeting options to help prevent misuse. While these options have been used in legitimate ways to reach people interested in a certain product or service, we think minimizing the risk of abuse is more important. This includes limiting the ability for advertisers to exclude audiences that relate to attributes such as ethnicity or religion."
These changes could have a major effect on the way people run their online campaigns. One of the most important differences between traditional advertising and online advertising is the way people are targeted. Traditional ads work on broad demographic data, whereas online ads are based on the habits of the individual user.
To think of it another way, if 10 people pick up the local paper or watch a TV station, they would see the same ads. But 10 people visiting the same websites would get different ad experiences based on their previous search and browsing behavior. This can lead to more effective advertising, but it can also be misused, which is why the ad filters were changed.
While Facebook has good intentions, and they have little choice if they want to minimize their liability, their decision could have a negative impact on ads. Removing advanced targeting tools could make Facebook ads less appealing for certain groups. For example, a religious charity needs a means to show ads to members of that religious group. If they can't do that effectively through Facebook ads, they may choose to another means of online advertising.
More businesses have been affected by these ad changes than many may realize. Restaurants that were targeting "foodies" or clothing retailers who used the "fashionista" ad filter have had to change their ad sets. Facebook has left messages on the ad managers of accounts where ads had previously used now-removed ad filters.
For the most part, Facebook has tried to make the transition easy for advertisers. For every ad filter they remove, they have a suggestion for something related that could have a similar effect when used for targeting. Also, it's still possible to target fans and the friends of fans, which could help in reaching specific demographics, like religion, that are no longer allowed. There's also the option of using a Facebook pixel to build a custom audience based on the type of people who visit the organization's website. So there are a still many options for fine-tuning Facebook ads.
Facebook plans to introduce some limited educational efforts to all advertisers. Here's how they explained in the post cited above:
"We want to help educate advertisers about their obligations under our policies. For over a year, we have required advertisers we identify offering housing, employment or credit ads to certify compliance with our non-discrimination policy. In the coming weeks, this new certification will roll out gradually to all US advertisers via our Ads Manager tool. Advertisers will be required to complete this certification in order to continue advertising on Facebook. We've designed this education in consultation with outside experts to underscore the difference between acceptable ad targeting and ad discrimination."
Removing more than 5,000 ad filters is a drastic step, but clearly, it's only the beginning. Marketers should keep an eye on their Facebook ads to make sure their new targeting is having the desired effect. And be ready for more changes to Facebook ads on the horizon.
For more information about upcoming changes to major online platforms, read this article about upcoming changes to WordPress.