Remember when Facebook (aka "The Facebook") was invite only for specific colleges whose students created a profile using their .edu email addresses? I do. I was one of those college students. At this time in tech and social media, your AIM "away message" was likely a dramatic song lyric from your favorite emo band, and your profile was a highly crafted version of yourself (hyperpersonal perspective much?) that represented what you wanted the world to know/think you do, not necessarily what you actually think/do. Behold my favorite quote from my Facebook profile:

Why is this important? I haven't updated the bones of my profile or "unliked" pages that I "liked" dating back to my profile creation, somewhere between 2004-2005, including my favorite quote. It actually makes me laugh when I just now revisited it for this screen shot. In other words, my profile is likely not representative of my actual interests, so reaching me based solely on self-report presents business owners with highly inaccurate data and costly ads targeting.

What Is a Data Mirage?

Let's break it down into small chunks starting with a data mirage. A data mirage stems from the idea that the more data we have, the better the solution. However, large volumes of data can actually add noise, instead of clarity, creating inaccurate or irrelevant conclusions. Much like a wanderer in the desert who seeks the mirage of water where there isn't, for business owners, large sets of data create a mirage of solutions to customer acquisition where there may not be one.

Enter: Facebook

As a business owner, Facebook Ads offers a mirage of customers. And yet, after spending $$, and Facebook telling owners that they've reached x amount of people, some still leave thirsty.

The Data Mirage Solution: Facebook Partner Categories

For small business owners, Partner Categories go something like this:

A high-end jewelry company wants to reach people in the market for jewelry. Facebook not only sells this type of consumer to the jewelry company, but helps them target people based on income, serving up new customers who can afford the high-end price tag.

This helps the company decrease their COA (cost-of-acquisition), and Facebook makes money too. Win-Win.

Facebook acquires this data from the actions its users take on the platform as well as their external behaviors (outside of Facebook) like credit card purchases or web browsing behaviors.

New Problem: Facebook Partner Categories Removal & Reinstatement of Data Mirage

If you're already advertising on Facebook, you likely received an email from them saying, "We are removing Facebook Partner Categories." For some of the desert wanderers, this means little, but it should mean a lot.

In reality, this removal will impact each person using Facebook Ads, even if you're someone who just hits Boost Post.

Facebook has slowly phased out both its public and private (by request) Partner Categories that include purchasing behaviors, in-market audiences, household income, etc. The final phase is set for October 1st, at which point advertisers can no longer utilize these categories.

So now what? While some folks might be inclined to pick "People who show interest in Tiffany & Co." in place of their Partner Category options, it's hard to pinpoint the makeup of this audience. This presents a mirage of potential customers. You don't know if Tiffany & Co. has high-end jewelry purchasers, people who just admire the jewelry, but cannot afford it, or bots. Likely, a mix of all. But reaching the right user is a roll of the dice.

What's Next? Tips for Combatting Removal of Facebook Partner Categories

Identify If You Are Data Poor:

The removal of Partner Categories will likely hurt people who know little about their target demographic, rely heavily on Facebook Partner Categories, and/or people on a small budget who cannot afford to cast a wide net to see results at a higher cost. Pay to play is here in a serious way. If this is you, you're likely data poor.

Don't fret, there is data inside of your Google Analytics that will help you narrow in on potential interest points for your target demographic.

Inside of Google Analytics, open Reports. Select Audience > Interests or Audience > Demographics.

Knowing this will allow you to test targets that still exist on Facebook to start. If this still leaves you with a high CPC, or you're already feeling lost, scroll down to my final tip.

Create & Use Custom Audiences:

Pixel-based retargeting (for folks who have a clean eco-system with few bots) and customer lists will become more powerful for building and exploring new audiences via lookalikes. Keep in mind that much like the mysticism of data, lookalike audiences in and of themselves are a data mirage. Avoid using audiences like "people likely to engage," for instance, because we know bots fall into this category. Bots = bad news. Be very clear and hypothesize what it is about your audiences' interests that turns them into customers. If you're a high-end jewelry company, narrow it down beyond just Tiffany and Co in your lookalike audience narrowed down interests.

Hire A Strategist Who Can Layer Third Party Data:

Not all is lost, and there certainly ain't no rest for the wicked...wickedly strategic, that is. Find a strategist who has access to third party data who can layer this into a Facebook Ads strategy (oh hey, that's me!). This essentially circumvents the issue entirely. Alternately, use a strategist who can custom create audiences programmatically (oh hey, also me!). This will likely put you light years ahead of your competition, especially since your competition won't have access to the same data since it's customized for YOU, and they will likely be relying on the "casting a wide net" strategy.

You don't know what you don't know, so hiring a strategist is likely the biggest gun in your data arsenal right now.

In the end, my prediction for Facebook's next move: development of proxy-based audiences based on Facebook's existing & growing user data. Much like Santa, Facebook sees you when you're sleeping. They know when you're awake, and maybe one day, we'll all have a very merry Facebook Ads account. Until then, bah humbug!

Ready to craft a Facebook strategy? Send me an email, and tell me about your brand and brand needs.


P.S. Click for some other gems of knowledge from understanding the role of social media in eCommerce to analyzing your traffic funnels.

Photos by Ashley Burns Photography