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Ask Kate: What Does Facebook’s Removal of Partner Categories Mean for Marketers?

What Does Facebook’s Removal of Partner Categories Mean for Marketers?

It is news to no one that there’s a lot going on in the world of Mark Zuckerberg and friends at the moment.

While much of the fate of Facebook and its users is still mostly nebulous, one certain change is that, starting in May, Facebook Ads Manager’s capabilities will begin to dramatically change, according to the recent announcement that Facebook will discontinue partner categories.

This is big news, as marketers have long relied on partner categories to target digital audiences. So last week, I cornered Director of Digital Media Strategy Kate Crouse in between meetings to ask, “What does it all mean?” vaguely searching for answers concerning both the removal of partner categories and life itself.

Related: A quest for digital transparency has also changed the influencer game.

Here’s what you need to know. 

OK: Facebook is discontinuing the use of partner categories. Partner categories … remind me? 

To first give you some context, there are three components of Facebook Ads Manager:

  • Facebook-acquired data (things like birthdays, employers, and colleges that users have willingly provided).
  • Custom data (content and data that you put into Facebook that’s then specific to you and your ad account).
  • Partner categories.

Partner categories refer to any data that Facebook has obtained through a partnership with a third-party company in Ads Manager. It gathers this data from relationships with data companies like Acxiom and Epsilon. Partner categories can include everything from the type of car someone drives to their purchase behaviors.

Currently, those selections look like this:

Right now, a sizable chunk of the targeting categories within Facebook Ads Manager comes from partner categories.  

So why is Facebook getting rid of them?

A combination of things. Facebook is under a lot of pressure right now, particularly after the Cambridge Analytica scandal and then the GDPR — general data protection regulation — changes that are going on in the European Union.

Remind me what the EU GDPR is about …  

It’s a new regulation (enforcement will start May 25) that aims to protect privacy and user information for EU citizens. Any company that operates in the EU will have to abide by these regulations. Essentially, it will force Facebook to change its approach to data privacy, and that is affecting Ads Manager.

How does the loss of partner categories affect marketers?

It’s a blow. Facebook Ads Manager is leagues beyond every other social media targeting platform out there, largely because of its use of partner data. What we are left with will still be an incredibly advanced and useful targeting tool, just not as useful as it has been historically. Marketers are going to have to shift some of their targeting strategies since their access to data is going to change. Moving forward, we’re going to have to rely more heavily on our own customer data and Facebook’s user-provided data.

What are some ways marketers can prepare to adapt?

  1. Use your own customer data on Facebook. This is something that some companies are already doing, but plenty of companies aren’t. Take time to build custom audiences and lists — i.e., load your own customer data into Facebook and target your matches.
  2. Speaking of custom audiences: Lean heavily on retargeting campaigns so that you can continue building relationships with potential customers after they visit and then leave your site. Engagement campaigns — built from lists of people who have interacted with your content on Facebook — are also a great option.
  3. Study up. We are going to wake up in the fall and have a completely different platform in front of us; so right now, dive into Ads Manager and see what your options will be when partner categories are no more — and start figuring out how to adjust your current marketing strategies.

You have long been a proponent of Facebook — but in light of recent happenings, is Facebook in danger of losing its crown as the best social media marketing platform?  

It’s going to be an interesting couple of years as they reevaluate who they are in the market and who they want to be. But ultimately, I think that they will be fine. Yes, in the past couple of weeks there’s been lots of talk about people quitting Facebook. But that’s hard to do when it’s engrained in so many peoples’ daily lives.

Facebook as a consumer versus Facebook as a marketer hold two very different places in my life. As a consumer, I’m irritated Facebook didn’t feel the need to inform people when the Cambridge Analytica scandal happened. They’ve really stepped in it, and they’ve lost the trust of a lot of consumers. But as a marketer, Facebook is still awesome. I know so much about so many people, and it helps me do my job better.

What do you think the climate surrounding this change will be like over the next six months?

When I saw the first article about all this, I was like, “Oh, my God, this is horrible!” But frankly, the response to the change hasn’t been nearly as widespread and panic-filled as I expected.

Ads Manager will continue to be a great way to target audiences; it’s just going to be more constrained. And it’s going to be operating a little closer to some of its social competitors. LinkedIn, Twitter, and Pinterest have targeting platforms, but all of them are pretty basic compared to what Ads Manager offers.

And to speak to this on a larger scale, Facebook was always going to have to make changes. It’s been a hot topic since the last election. What are its responsibilities to its users? To political advertising? What are its responsibilities in terms of data and security breaches? Is it a social network or a media company? There have been a lot of questions about Facebook’s identity over the past couple of years, and I think those answers will continue to shake out as Facebook moves forward with these kinds of changes.

But bottom line: It’s not the end of the world. Or Facebook.  

Have more questions about what’s happening in the world of digital marketing and what it means for your business? Contact me, I can help.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images