By Tracy Wisneski
Facebook is a data giant, collecting details about users and their online practices that can be used to target ads with far more precision than traditional ads ever could before. While that presents a fantastic opportunity to market to well-tailored audiences, it has also opened that opportunity to those who would abuse it.
Those abuses became public in 2016 when Pro-publica investigated the ability to create Facebook housing ads that excluded users by ethnic affinity, which is most often race-based. Such ads are a direct violation of both The Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as The Fair Housing Act of 1968.
In response, Facebook no longer allows advertisers of housing, credit or employment to use ethnic affinity as a targeting tool as of November 2016. It also updated its policy details and education on discriminatory practices and required advertisers in certain industries to certify compliance with Facebook’s non-discriminatory policy that includes more protected classes than current federal legislation.
However, discriminatory ads persisted excluding people based on gender, age and location. The exclusion of certain zip codes was potentially being used to discriminate against certain populations, enabling redlining. Several lawsuits followed, culminating in a settlement in March removing further targeting from advertisers of housing, credit and employment.
The three biggest new targeting exclusions for REALTORS® are age, gender and zip code. Zip code is an integral part of our effective advertising, especially in its ability to help us target potential home sellers in our specialty areas. Additionally, it allows us to create ads specific to an area that have a higher engagement rate. The exact zip code restriction has not quite been rolled out yet, so it remains to be seen exactly how it will work. I have seen promises that we’ll at least be able to pinpoint a radius of as small as 15 miles, which will be important, but still limiting fair advertising that does not discriminate against protected groups. We’ll learn more about those restrictions in coming months.
How can you be sure that you will not mistakenly break these new restrictions? Facebook is ramping up its educational component and will continue to require housing advertisers to certify compliance, and in doing so, alert you of the changes. They are also improving their digital monitoring tools, which will alert advertisers to ads or targeting that look like they may be breaking policy (or the law). Those alerts will include further information, as well as an option for a manual review if there may be a mistake.
An upcoming change that looks like it will be an asset for REALTOR® marketing endeavors is the creation of a new searchable portal listing all housing offered, regardless of ads or newsfeed content. I look forward to learning more about how that will work and how we can best utilize it to serve our clients and find more prospects