The value of Facebook advertising lies in the platform’s ability to segment its users into thousands of demographics, allowing marketers to target groups of people very accurately.
Facebook allows marketers and advertisers to narrow their audience by including or excluding categories like age, gender, location, interests, job titles, education, languages, relationship status, and more.
Much of the information Facebook gathers from users is provided by users (your About page on your profile gives Facebook much of what it needs to show you relevant ads), but Facebook also learns a great deal about you through your behaviour and engagement. This includes the type of content you’re most likely to like, share, or comment on, as well as the pages you follow. Facebook calls this detailed targeting and it Photo Editing Services gives marketers more options to tailor their advertising campaigns.
If you routinely like and comment on posts about the All Blacks, for example, and follow the Facebook page for SANZAAR, Facebook will conclude that you are interested in New Zealand Rugby Union. They might then show you ads for Rugby merchandise if an advertiser selects this as a targeting option.
The Problem with Facebook’s Targeting
Facebook is an engagement-driven medium, but what we engage with matters more to Facebook’s targeting metrics than how we engage with it. For many, online engagement is not so much encouraged, as it is provoked. Researchers at Cambridge University found that negative online content (being critical of others’ beliefs or behaviours) generated twice as many shares as positive content (celebrating or uplifting others’ beliefs and behaviours).
This poses a marketing problem for anyone attempting to advertise within politically-charged areas.
Facebook protects the identity of its users from the marketers that target them, but it still collects and stores that data for targeting purposes. This type of data collection has become a lightning rod for online regulation in recent years, as governments around the world take steps to safeguard people’s online privacy.
The European Union passed the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in 2018 to do just that. The law prevented Facebook and other online platforms from targeting people without first acquiring explicit consent from each user individually. Those parameters focused on demographics that could be exploited for discrimination, such as political beliefs and sexual orientation.
Facebook has spent the past few years opposing these regulations in the EU, arguing that these targeting options allowed for a more customised user experience, but their upcoming targeting changes make it seem like they are conceding.