Advertising, Digital

Facebook and Cambridge Analytica: This Seems Like a Big Deal, But Has Anything Changed?

By now, news about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica has become nearly inescapable. Facebook estimates the personal data of 87 million people may have been exposed due to the use of an app called “thisisyourdigitallife,” but what is less clear is what concrete actions are being taken and how this saga will affect social media advertising in the near future. To attempt to find answers to these questions, I have combed through nearly every piece of news that has come out in the weeks since this news resurfaced. Through MassMedia’s status as a Facebook partner agency, I had a conversation with our agency partner manager to dig into how Facebook advertising will change in the next few months. Here are a few of the key developments that I have gathered:

1. The Cambridge Analytica news has not impacted the use of Facebook, or Facebook ads, all that much

Despite the #DeleteFacebook movement that arose shortly after this news broke, and the participation of notable figures such as Elon Musk, Facebook has not experienced a significant drop in daily active users. For their part, even as they express “unease” with the amount of personal data that was collected and sold, marketers have by and large not shifted their ad budgets from Facebook in a significant way. These trends shouldn’t be all that surprising. Even if there were a measurable drop-off in active Facebook users, the platform remains the single largest social media channel in existence. The specificity of targeting parameters available through Facebook ads is unmatched by other platforms, so as long as the largest potential audience exists on Facebook, marketers will keep their budgets largely unchanged.

2. Several digital companies have been eager to try to capitalize on Facebook’s public relations crisis

As Facebook struggled to craft a response that suitably reassured the public that their privacy concerns were being addressed, and especially in the lead-up to Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional testimony, a number of companies seemed more than eager to address their own response to personal security and data privacy. From a marketing perspective, one of the most notable responses I saw was Mozilla’s development of a Firefox browser extension effectively blocking Facebook pixel tracking. Now, the latest available market share figures show that only 12% of internet users leverage Firefox as their primary browser (Google Chrome is the market leader, at over 60%), so this is not an immediate threat to marketers. However, Facebook pixel data is absolutely vital to marketers – both as a way to validate performance and for retargeting efforts – and if other browsers (like Chrome) feel significantly pressured to create similar tools, savvy marketers who consistently leverage pixel data will have a powerful weapon removed from their arsenal. This is a trend that is worth monitoring in the near future.

3. Get ready for Facebook changes, both for users and for advertisers

As someone who dug through Facebook’s privacy settings after the Cambridge Analytica news broke, I can tell you firsthand that this was an area of the platform that was painfully due for a change. This has since been addressed in an update, and your privacy settings are now both easier to find and simpler to change. While this is a positive step towards restoring user trust in Facebook, for marketers the more significant change on the horizon is to targeting parameters. As announced at the end of March, Facebook intends to eliminate partner categories – third-party data used to target ads according to certain demographic and behavioral categories. Effective October 1, no new ads will be allowed to be created using targeting parameters such as income level and certain purchase behaviors in the United States. For companies advertising to the UK, Germany, and France, this change will be effective May 25. It is important to note that, as compared to the data collected by Cambridge Analytica, these categories are completely anonymous, and they are a part of the standard suite of targeting options available to anyone through the Facebook ad dashboard. Even behind that shield of anonymity, it is easy to see why Facebook would want to remove some of these options that could be viewed as intrusive by the people receiving ads based on their perceived income level, etc. Of all of the developments covered here, this is the one that has the most potential to significantly impact advertising campaigns.

The Bottom Line

With all the news surrounding Facebook at this moment, it would be easy to assume that the future of Facebook advertising is in jeopardy. However, all indications point to Facebook remaining an integral part of any digital advertising strategy for the foreseeable future. Potential threats to pixel data and the loss of some targeting categories should encourage you to be mindful of your approach to upcoming Facebook campaigns. If you manage ads for your company directly, consider the targeting parameters that you currently use and, if you are using partner categories, be proactive about finding new ways to reach your target audience. If you work with an agency, start having conversations about your upcoming campaigns now so that you can be sure they are prepared to help your business thrive in the new ecosystem. As one of the few Facebook partner agencies, we are fortunate to have an ongoing two-way dialogue with our counterparts at Facebook. This allows us to remain on top of these changes, and any others that may arise, so that we can continue to deliver top-notch advertising campaigns to our clients. If you’re curious what we can do for your business, give us a call today!

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