Facebook: The Role of Ethical Targeting in Digital Advertising

Since the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the personal data of millions of Facebook users was collected without their consent, the question we’ve been hearing most is: “Should we still be advertising on Facebook?” 

The answer is yes. 

Lack of transparency in digital media is often caused by a knowledge gap between both users and marketers. The bottom line is that it’s important to use Facebook data in an ethical way to serve targeted ads to consumers. 

Facebook is free to billions of users because of a simple fact: the user is the product. By serving ads using the terms and conditions set by the platform and agreed to by the user, companies get their ads in front of the right people, at the right place, and at the right moment. 

In fact, this study from Innovid found that “43% of consumers say digital ads should be personalized.” This kind of personalization comes largely from the data social media apps collect from consumers. The Cambridge Analytica situation is an outlier and was a blatant misuse of the data from the Facebook platform. Scandals like this paint a negative picture of the ability to use data ethically in order to target ads. This can create a fear factor among consumers about allowing apps and devices to have access to their personal information. With privacy concerns becoming more important to both users and companies alike, advertisers walk the fine line of ethics. 

The information we use as advertisers is private and cannot be tied back to an individual person’s information but we can see your overall bottom line grow to attribute the success social media plays in your marketing plan.

By using ethical targeting, we know that someone who has “liked” posts about Caribbean vacation destinations is probably a good audience to serve ads to about, you guessed it, a new Caribbean resort. We can use data points to create a buyer persona for the person you are looking to turn into a consumer. There are ways to target user groups ethically given the restrictions Facebook places on their platform. 

John Boyega from Star Wars saying it’s the right thing to do.
As Facebook restrictions make it harder for advertisers to target precisely, it’s important for them to find new strategies to deliver the most relevant ads, while remaining ethical.

How Facebook Has Tightened Up Their Privacy Policies

  • API (Application Program Interfaces) Will Need Manual Facebook Approval
Michael Scott from The Office,played by Steve Carell, yelling “I declare privacy.”
Facebook is listening to its users after The Cambridge Analytica scandal, as well as concerns being raised about their own ethics. Facebook released a series of updates to ensure that their users’ privacy concerns are heard and that their data is protected.

The Changing Landscape

Over the years, Facebook’s ad targeting has gone through many iterations due to both internal and external influences. While advertisers used to have access to millions of data points provided by third-party data providers like Experian and Neustar, they phased that out in 2018 for the sake of privacy. 

In recent years, they have also placed limits on the targeting of ads in special categories such as credit, employment, and housing to prevent advertisers from taking advantage of vulnerable populations. The wake of the presidential elections in 2016 and 2020 also led to increased targeting restrictions and safeguards to be put in place to limit misinformation and allow more transparency in political advertising. 

Outside of Facebook’s control, the release of Apple’s iOS 14, which allows iPhone users to tell apps not to track their activity and share that information, further restricted Facebook’s ability to fully understand how their users behave online, making their advertising audiences less precise. 

Most recently, Facebook announced that in January 2022, they will be removing thousands of detailed targeting segments. These targeting options fall into what they refer to as “sensitive” topics, such as segments based on race, health, religious practices, political beliefs, or sexual orientation. Removing these segments prevent advertisers from abusing the targeting options available which can (and has) led to negative experiences for underrepresented groups.

Along with limiting the number of Facebook-provided interest segments in audiences, advertisers are placing a greater emphasis on building up and utilizing first-party data to reach users with greater precision such as CRM data including email lists and information on past purchasers. Advertisers should focus on cultivating this first-party data as a long-term strategy to make campaigns more relevant to their core audiences. 

However, experienced marketers know that obtaining valuable first-party data is not often an easy task. It can be costly and difficult to incentivize customers to provide their personal information, especially for many small businesses. 
In these cases where first-party data isn’t readily available, advertisers should focus on Engagement Custom Audiences to reach users who have engaged with their posts or follow their page. Based on these audiences, advertisers can also generate lookalike audiences of users who behave similarly to their engaged audience.

Michael from The Good Place, played by Ted Danson, saying “let’s try a new way. Together.”
Facebook has continued to roll out a string of privacy updates to ensure users they are committed to an ethical platform. This has led many advertisers to look for new ways to target users with a limited amount of targeting segments available to them.

Updated Strategies For Advertisers

Due to the ever-changing world of Facebook advertising, marketers need to constantly be evolving their strategies to remain relevant to their audiences. The removal of sensitive targeting segments, and Apple’s iOS 14 making it more difficult for Facebook to gather information on its users from partner sites and apps, is leading many advertisers to opt to broaden their campaign targeting by using fewer detailed targeting segments and letting Facebook’s machine-learning algorithm determine who are the right users to show ads to. 

This method saves advertisers the headache of trying to craft what they believe their ideal audience looks like, potentially missing out on valuable customers, but it also comes with its drawbacks as it limits advertisers’ control over which users see their ads. This should be just one method marketers test to continue trying to find success on this platform. 
Facebook’s multi-billion user audience isn’t going away anytime soon. The platform’s investment in transparency will re-instill trust in its users, as well as invigorate best practices for ethical advertising. The effect of the data breach on most businesses using Facebook has changed the way they deal with privacy. This leads many businesses to wonder if using the platform to run ads is still beneficial to them. In looking at how advertisers have responded to the ever-changing digital landscape, there are still ethical ways to continue targeting prospective audiences even after restrictions. The advantages to staying on the platform far outweigh the prospect of pulling your business off of it. Rebel is here to help find cutting-edge, and ethical strategies to help your business get the most success out of this platform. Contact us today to stay ahead of the curve.

Authored by:

Dan Wergeles

Sr. Specialist, Advertising & Search

Senior specialist, advertising & search Dan Wergeles has a wide range of experience doing search advertising, social strategy, and content marketing for start-ups, agencies, and a large corporation. At Rebel,...Read More

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