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There’s no denying it – Facebook is a powerful advertising tool for real estate.

In the olden days, you had to pay thousands to media companies to reach their audience. Now, with Facebook’s advertising capabilities, you can promote your listings (and your profile) to the same audience, at a lower cost, by yourself. Instead of waiting for buyers to come looking for properties on the portals, you can take properties to buyers before they go looking – and ultimately to drive them to your website instead of the major property portals.

One of the unique advantages of Facebook advertising in more recent times has been their Partner Categories program.

But following the recent Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal, where 50 million Facebook profiles were mined for data, the social network announced that it would be abolishing its Partner Categories completely.

What are Facebook Partner Categories?

Facebook Partner Categories were introduced to Facebook Ads in 2013. The release offered targeting to audiences in a select handful of countries.

The information provided by aforementioned third-party data aggregators provided Facebook with incredibly detailed information about its users and more specifically, their behaviours off of the platform.

With Facebook Partner Categories, real estate agents could narrow in on potential buyers and sellers based on whether they owned a home, were in the market for a new vehicle, or had a particular affinity for certain brands or products. For those without in-house access to customer data, having this information to pull from was incredibly valuable.

Why were they so powerful?

These Partner Categories were previously made available to advertisers for the purpose of further refining ad set targeting based on third-party data provided by aggregators like Experian, Quantium, Epsilon, and Acxiom. Some of you were aware of the partnership between CoreLogic and Quantium, which provided the real estate industry with the ability to target audiences based on property attributes, purchasing behaviour and home ownership – just to name a few.

Here’s the bad news…

As of 1 October 2018, you will no longer be able to create or edit campaigns with any partner categories. Meaning, if you had previously been using the Quantium Q Segments above, these will no longer be accessible.

Removing partner categories, in Facebook’s eyes, is a step in the right direction towards easing public fears over privacy.

While it’s hard to argue against data privacy, some real estate businesses have certainly been left scrambling to an extent, because the ability to target these segments had provided a more personalised advertising experience and in many cases, a much lower cost-per-click.

How Facebook Collects Data

There are several ways in which Facebook goes about collecting data for targeted advertisements.

The points at which data is entered and integrated into ad set creation include:

  • Login information gathered at sign-up (i.e. email, birthday, geographic location, etc.)
  • User interactions with advertisers
  • User interactions with Facebook Pages and posts
  • Third-party data suppliers and aggregators

While recent changes will eliminate the last source listed above, don’t lose your head just yet. There will certainly be less categories to choose from on the advertising side of things but consider the sheer volume of categories you’re already choosing from.

Facebook Partner Categories are merely a drop in the ocean of data Facebook has already acquired on its users. For example, if any of your target audiences have purchased something through a Facebook game or app, Facebook has their credit card information. In addition, the platform has already aggregated information around every interaction someone has had on Facebook (whether it be with their friends, business pages, you name it) for the sake of profiling them for advertising.

Download your own user data set and see for yourself.

What Abolishing Facebook Partner Categories Actually Means

Despite the hype, from an advertising perspective, nothing will change as the result of dropping Facebook Partner Categories. You’ll still have ample amounts of information and interest-based options to choose from in developing narrowed ad sets to target.

The most notable change will probably be realised with regards to privacy, an issue that is certainly not new to the social giant’s list of gathered complaints. If there’s anything good that has come out of recent scandals that have come to light, it’s the fact that Facebook will not just focus on changing privacy settings for the European Union’s upcoming General Data Protections Regulation (GDPR)—but for everyone.

As they work to do that, it has been said that there’s a chance half of the current 1,200 pieces of targeting criteria available will be eliminated.

This criteria includes:

  • Household income
  • Car ownership
  • Users with credit cards
  • Spending and purchasing habits

All of this comes after they’ve eliminated access to education, job title and employment targeting features.

Facebook Partner Categories will not be eliminated immediately. As of May 24, Facebook Partner Categories will not be available in the UK, Germany, and France (in light of the GDPR), with remaining locations to follow suit by July 2. Once October 1 rolls around, no Facebook ad campaigns will deliver to Partner Categories. So the good news is, there’s time to put a new plan into place… at least until Facebook gives users the ability to turn off targeted ads completely.

Why the data in your business is more important than ever

Small business found Facebook’s Partner Categories extremely helpful, especially when their database resources were limited. This is no different for those working in real estate, trying to build their business from the ground up.

Collect your Own Data

If you haven’t already, there’s no better time to start building up your own database of customer information than now. After all, the reason many businesses now find themselves in a panic is because they’ve relied so heavily on Facebook to do all the leg work without thoroughly familiarising themselves with Business Manager capabilities.

If you focus all of your efforts on social media rather than developing the credibility of your own website, you are inevitably at the mercy of these channels once policies change. Consider developing landing pages and lead gen programs for the collecting of customer contact information, or develop questionnaires and surveys to send out via email.

Don’t Panic

Facebook gets most of their revenue from advertising, so rest assured they won’t be shutting down the entire ads operation anytime soon. They are sandwiched between the happiness of both their users and advertisers, which means they’ll be more than eager to cater to both sides in whatever way they can.

That being said, you can manage to recreate the same features previously offered through Facebook Partner Categories if you’ve been keeping a database of contacts. Consider the value of Lookalike Audiences.

What are Facebook Lookalike Audiences?

Facebook still has the Custom Audience feature, which allows you to create targeted audiences from an existing list of customers.

In addition, there are also Facebook Lookalike Audiences.

Facebook Lookalike Audiences allow you to develop ad sets of people that are similar in interests, behaviour, demographics, etc. to your existing customers. Think of Facebook Custom Audiences as a way of retargeting and re-engaging clients and potential buyers, while Facebook Lookalike Audiences allow you an incredibly effective way of reaching potential new customers who (in the eyes of Facebook’s algorithm) look similar to people you have in your database.

When you’re first familiarising yourself with these features, consider building off a smaller audience composed of your best customers.

There are three sources for your Facebook Lookalike Audiences to be built from, including:

  • Pixel data (your website traffic and visitor behaviour)
  • Fans of your Facebook Page
  • Custom Audience created from an uploaded contacts list (based on email addresses or mobile numbers used by your contacts to also sign into Facebook)

How to Create Facebook Lookalike Audiences Using Your Database Contacts

Creating a Custom Audience

To create a Facebook Lookalike Audience using your existing database contacts, you must first have a Custom Audience built from these contacts.

Getting started is easy. Just follow these steps:
  1. Create a list of either email addresses or phone numbers using your customer data
  2. Save your list in CSV or TXT format
  3. Go to the Audiences tab in Adverts Manager
  4. Click the Create Audience button, select the Custom Audience option, then choose Customer List
  5. Upload the CSV or TXT file list you previously saved, or easily drag and drop your file to the Custom Audience box
  6. Your Custom Audience will be ready in about 30 minutes

Creating the Facebook Lookalike Audience

Once you have the Custom Audience developed, you can move on to creating a Facebook Lookalike Audience based on your database contacts.

  1. Go to the Audiences tab in Adverts Manager. In the dropdown provided, select Lookalike Audience.
  2. Choose your source (i.e. the Custom Audience previously created), the country or countries you’d want to focus your Facebook Lookalike Audience on, and slide the slider to determine how far-reaching you want the audience to be.
  3. Click Create Audience. Note: According to Facebook, building out your Facebook Lookalike Audience will take 6-24 hours. Your data set will refresh every 3-7 days if you actively target ads to the audience.

Final Thoughts

There’s no denying the fact that increased data privacy on platforms like Facebook comes at a price for real estate agents. What can be denied, however, is the need for panic.

Let these changes spark a restructuring of how you think about your own digital marketing strategy, where budget is allocated, and how you can leverage your existing database to develop highly targeted ad sets (i.e. Facebook Lookalike Audiences).

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