By Tracy Wisneski
Ad targeting abuses on Facebook were brought to light in 2016 and ended in a payout of nearly $5 million to settle several lawsuits alleging ad discrimination in housing, credit and employment on Facebook. In response, Facebook has now rolled out its Special Ads Category that applies to all ads for the three targeted industries.
What does this mean for REALTORS®? The Special Ads Category is now part of Ads Manager that requires agents to designate housing ads by using the Special Ads Category, which restricts their access to targeting data. If it is not yet connected to your Facebook Ads Manager, you’ll be getting it very soon. The restrictions are severe and it is questionable if they are all required in order to uphold Fair Housing protections, but that discussion will likely evolve over time. Let’s examine the important aspects of the Special Ads Category and how to make the best use of the tools currently available.
At the top of the campaign creation in Ads Manager, there is a box that must be checked when creating an ad that is categorized as housing, credit and employment. Toggle to housing for real estate ads and several settings will then become part of your audience creation.
Zip codes, age, gender, behaviors and demographic targeting are not available in the Special Ads Category.
Age is set to 18-65+ and gender is set to “all”. Behavior and demographic targeting are completely unavailable. Demographic restrictions can be questionable for various valid objectives, such as targeting homeowners for homeowner ads, and renters for rental and first- time home buyer ads. Another example would be the objective of targeting people 55 and over for listings in designated 55+ communities. There are several other valid, nondiscriminatory objectives for these categories, but as of now, they are currently unavailable.
Redlining is a very serious issue that it is important to prevent. In response to accusations that zip codes were being used for redlining, zip codes are now a restricted target in all housing ads. The minimum area that can be used for targeting is now an address or map pin plus 15 miles. This is to ensure that everyone within at least a 15-mile radius from a listing has access to the ad.
At this time, this larger radius applies to all real estate ads, not just ads advertising specific listings, thus making it more expensive for agents to reach homeowners in their smaller farming areas. For example, if your farm area is Carrollwood, your homeowner ads would still be served to homes as far as Seffner (15 miles in a straight line from your pin could potentially translate to as much as 25 miles for the actual drive). Farming is among the oldest and most widely used farming methods allowing REALTORS® to specialize in smaller areas, so I wonder if there may eventually be an approved method for farming ads on Facebook that is in line with Fair Housing laws.
Language is still an allowable target.
Language is open to targeting allowing agents to include the language(s) of their choice. Language can be used as just one setting if you only use one language, and users are also able to create ads in more than one language if desired.
Some interests are allowable targeting methods, and others are restricted.
Some interest targeting that is still available include such helpful interests as Zillow, Realtor.com, renting, rent.com, homeowner association, home improvement and others.
Several interests are not allowable targeting methods, because it is alleged that such targeting may unfairly discriminate against certain audiences. Among the restricted interests are golf and equestrian that could create a challenge when listing in golf or equestrian communities, for example. A potential workaround for this would be to include imagery and language to appeal to buyers specifically looking for those communities.
Some suggested methods for reaching targeted audiences in light of these restrictions.
Using strong images/videos and text to appeal to your targeted audience is helpful. You can even go a step further and employ Facebook’s Split Testing feature to test which ads perform best. The Split Testing feature is available on the campaign page of ad creation and includes the option to use campaign budget optimization that will feed more campaign funds to the higher performing ads. Keep in mind that the most effective split testing is achieved by only changing one variable between the ads. Split testing can also be pricier than some agents’ usual ad budgets, but if done effectively, the results should eventually improve your results and ROI.
Using Your Facebook Audiences.
Facebook audiences are a strong marketing tool that agents should employ in their Facebook ad strategies. Facebook allows you to create a pixel (a bit of code) that you embed into your website and landing pages. This code is helpful in analytics, but it is also helpful in empowering you to retarget your ads so that your audiences see ads from you repeatedly.
Facebook audiences can also be created from the Facebook users who’ve interacted with your Facebook page, Facebook videos and Facebook ads. Another source of audience is your database that can be uploaded within Facebook Business Manager to help you reach your current contacts.
Audiences help us to achieve the repeated marketing touches required to earn more leads and also enables us to keep in touch with our current contacts. Audiences are still an allowable resource and more than one audience can be combined when targeting ads.
Look-alike Audiences Restricted; Special Ad Audience Used Instead.
Look-alike audiences were an excellent method for building upon data from our audiences, allowing us to expand audiences over a million or more in our quest to reach more people who may be interested in our listings or services. However, those Look-alike Audiences also used targeting information that is now restricted, so Look-alike Audiences can no longer be used for housing ads. In their place, Facebook now offers Special Ad Audiences that use much less data to create a larger audience. Test your Special Ad Audience results against other approved targeting methods to see what brings the best results.
Back to the Drawing Board.
For agents who’ve been employing Facebook ads in their marketing campaigns, such drastic changes have undoubtedly changed the nature of our work. Our earlier testing and measurements are no longer valid, requiring us to regroup, retest and repeat. If you’re wondering if it’s worth the effort, consider for a moment that Facebook Ads Manager runs ads across both Facebook and Instagram. Facebook boasts 2.45 billion MAU (monthly active users), 1.62 billion are daily active users. Instagram has over 1 billion monthly active users, with over 500 million using it every day. I’ll let you do the math.
Tracy Wisneski is a REALTOR® with RE/MAX Champions and a social/digital media strategist. She is also the Chair of the 2019 Public Relations Committee at Greater Tampa REALTORS®.