In an attempt to put the Cambridge Analytica scandal and knee-jerk #deletefacebook movement behind and avoid potential related problems in the future, Facebook recently announced that they will begin shutting down Partner Categories over the next six months. This move will effectively limit how much data will be available to advertisers when they place ads.

Over the years Facebook has accumulated vast amounts of data through their users own input of data combined with algorithms and analytics that often work in the background. Most users recognize that it tracks your on-site activity, such as the pages you like and the ads you click. Facebook is also tracking information on the device you are using, including your geographic location. Additionally, Facebook can see virtually every other website you visit if you’re still logged on. Even if you’re logged off, it continues tracking you via those “Like” or “Share” buttons, pieces of code called the Facebook Pixel, or ads sourced from its Atlas ad server network.

What Facebook doesn’t have, they buy from third parties to develop Partner Categories.

What Are Partner Categories?

In the simplest of terms, Partner Categories provide Facebook with the targeting abilities from data sources it buys through these third-party vendors. Facebook has hundreds of these categories available for advertisers to search and browse through when launching an ad campaign.

When you set targeting options in Facebook Ads Manager, you can see specific types of detailed targeting options and their parameters. These are broken down into categories and subcategories. When you choose a specific category, you see what subcategory it is (like demographics > home > home ownership > homeowners) and the description of that targeting option. You can also see details of the option and, often the source of the data.

However, sometimes the source of the data is not provided. Take for example the below, where we would be looking to target households with a net worth over $2,000,000.

How are they used?

These Partner Categories allow us to enhance our targeting when launching ad campaigns by using demographic data such as home ownership and household size, financial data such as spending habits, purchase history and income, job information and titles such as realtors, lifestyle and interests like charity donations, and behavioral categories such as spa mavens, fashionistas, gamers and DIYers.

When you create an ad campaign on Facebook, you build out a target audience that pools Facebook users into a group that could potentially see your ad.

Facebook has three primary audience types: Saved Audiences, Custom Audiences and Lookalike Audiences. Partner Categories are found in the Detailed Targeting settings when you create a Saved Audience.

There are three main categories to choose from in the Detailed Targeting section: Demographics, Interests, and Behaviors. With hundreds of subcategories under each option. Partner Categories are interspersed within these options among other options that Facebook has from their own, non-third party data. As the images above demonstrate, they are not explicitly called out until scrolled over for more information.

As some of these categories are obtained by Facebook without the use of third party data, they will remain as targeting options.

What does this mean for advertisers?

As a reminder, we can continue to use this targeting for now, as it will be phased out during the next six months. From a practical standpoint, this likely means doing more testing and learning when creating campaigns. As much of a silver bullet that these third-party data providers may appear to have from a targeting standpoint, no data set will ever be perfectly accurate. And there’s ways of using existing data to reach many of the same conclusions and people that would have been covered by Partner Categories.

For example, if you wanted to target wealthy homeowners, you could still place strict geographic targeting options in wealthy suburbs where people are most likely to own expensive homes. Or if you wanted to reach doctors, you could target people who have put in a medical school as their education in their profile.

All of the data Facebook has that does not come from third party sources shall remain available for use. You can still upload a customer file or email list and match those with people on Facebook, you can still retarget visitors who have visited your site, or people who have engaged with your content on Facebook or Instagram. There’s still a variety of geotargeting options, and demographic data such as age, gender and languages.

One area to watch is the potential impact this may have on shared audiences. Currently you can upload lists of your existing users and serve them ads, but according to Facebook, you can only serve ads to people who have previously accepted your privacy policy. This means that they’ve been to your website, mobile app, or have given consent in some way. So you technically should not buy a list of emails from another party, upload them to Facebook and run ads to those users. However, Facebook does not have the capability to know with certainty if that list of emails that were uploaded were from a purchased list and not your own data. We will continue to monitor the impact this may have on shared audiences.

Outside of Facebook, there are plenty of other advertising options that use third party data. Programmatic buying is still on the rise – it is one of the fastest growing segments of digital marketing due to its inherent abundance, efficiency, and the control it provides to advertisers. At first programmatic advertising was often used to reach target audiences as cheaply as possible, with little regard for the quality of the sites in which the ads appeared. When fraud and viewability concerns arose, various solutions arose, including incorporating additional targeting tactics. Now programmatic is being used in conjunction with third party data segments to target individuals in intelligent and creative ways, identifying those most likely to be receptive to a brand’s messages and encouraging them along the path to purchase, often in premium environments.

Furthermore, at Snap, a spokesperson said that the company stands behind its audience data partners and that it offers privacy-compliant data.  We expect other platforms to continue to offer third party data.

Bottom Line

Facebook will continue to be a valuable resource for advertisers, but it will require additional creativity when it comes to building out these audiences. That’s where we can help. We thrive at being creative problem solvers with a penchant for tinkering.

Contact us today to see how we can help you navigate the ever-changing Facebook ad landscape!


To read a more in-depth version of this article, including the role of 3rd party data on Facebook click here.