Everyone and anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock has heard about the Congressional hearing relating to Facebook’s privacy issues. In the year since Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony, the company has changed its approach to privacy. During this year's Facebook’s F8 developer conference at the end of April, advertisers got a glimpse of the future for the platform with the unveiling of a complete redesign, with a focus on more private communication.
Facebook has been successful largely because of its ability to keep people engaged and to supply content that is shared or created by someone relatable to the user. The privacy controversy did not discourage people from using the platform largely because Facebook has become embedded in our social culture as an essential way to connect with friends, family, and the brands we love. In fact, the number of people using Facebook property in January 2019 was 26.3M compared to 25.9M in January 2018, with average minutes spend per visit staying stable at 2.9. That right! Despite all the chatter about privacy concerns, Facebook’s user base continues to increase. This is remarkable considering that the past year of scandals has eroded trust in the company to an all-time low. The general perception is not to trust anything see on Facebook, yet users admit they have little intention to leave the platform.
In response to pressure from politicians and negative sentiment from the public, Facebook has committed to addressing its privacy issues in 2019. So Facebook is doing something unexpected. They are hearkening back to their Harvard days and aligning themselves as a platform primarily for communication within a closed group. In addition to changing aesthetics, Facebook’s new design will widen the gap between users’ private posts and public posts, with a focus on more engagement for the private content. In fact, the future of the platform revolves around the Groups feature. Facebook Groups will allow users to post and share details of their life to an audience that they know will be engaged and interested on the topic, just as much as they are.
What this means for advertisers
We know these changes are intended to provide users with increased privacy, but what do they mean for marketers? In short, marketers will have to be more agile and adaptable. The organic reach of Pages has been on a downward trend for many years, while Groups have trended upwards in the Facebook news feed. The introduction of branded groups in 2018 allowed brands to associate groups with their Page, creating a sense community of around its products. If your brand hasn’t created one, then it’s time to get on board to reap the benefits of the expanded reach of groups.
The continued decline in organic Pages reach coupled with the shift towards groups-centric content means that in order to reach their target audience, brands must embrace paid Facebook ads now more than ever. But Facebook Ads are changing too. Facebook hasn’t changed the way they sell ads, but they changed how they serve ads. Marketers are buying ads in a different ecosystem, where Facebook users’ interaction with ad units is changing. Facebook has always been good at generating conversion and leads, but it always been up to the marketers to get the best performance out of an ad unit.
Facebook has announced that they will finally roll out their Clear History tool, more than a year after it was announced at last year’s F8 conference. This feature will enable users to see the websites and apps that send Facebook information when they use them, delete this information from their account, and turn off Facebook’s ability to store it associated with their account going forward. This means that Facebook will no longer be able to use that data for ad targeting. To clarify, the Clear History tool won’t actually clear a user’s history but, rather, it will make it anonymous. The Clear History tool means that targeting options powered by Facebook’s business tools, like the Facebook pixel, can’t be used to reach someone with ads. This includes Custom Audiences built from visitors to websites or apps. The company recommends marketers take this under consideration when planning these campaigns for the second half of 2019.
Facebook says its measurement and analytics tools have been carefully designed to protect people's identity. However, the company says it doesn’t anticipate any changes to measurement and analytics reports once the Clear History tool has launched. Because the company is making off-platform activity by users anonymous rather than actually deleting it, that data will still be available for measurement purposes.
Facebook’s focus on privacy is an obvious move to put users’ concerns about privacy and data use at ease. But for a platform that has touted its ability to reach and target users with ads, these changes will most definitely impact marketers, even if it’s short term. To avoid long term effects, marketers must quickly pivot and adjust their campaign strategy with these changes in mind.