There’s been a lot of media coverage recently about how personal information is being used and misused by social media companies. The best known example is the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal, where personal data about Facebook users and their habits were sold to marketing firms. It unearthed security and privacy breaches, and as a result, limitations have been placed on how advertisers access user and behavioral data.
The repercussions are certainly felt among those of us in the real estate field because Facebook is an important marketing tool in our efforts to engage with prospects and generate leads. While the changes to Facebook’s advertising guidelines change our approach, they don’t have to impede the benefits we get from using the social media giant. The right path forward can help you effectively use Facebook to build your business or find alternatives that still deliver high ROI on your marketing spending.
The effects of user privacy
Individual data and how it’s protected is increasingly concerning in today’s digital world. The Facebook/Cambridge Analytica case highlights the issues of users and the companies that are chartered with the responsibility of protecting them.
What happened at Facebook wasn’t illegal, but it raised serious ethical questions about corporate behavior and the rights of users. The company did what many companies have been doing for a long time. Essentially, Facebook has a lot of data about each user. It includes pretty much everything that the user divulges voluntarily (name, date of birth, hometown), but it also collects information about users’ behaviors in the network. Who are they connected to? What groups do they follow? What links do they tend to click on? From that data is a lot of valuable information that could help others target their advertising and messaging to specific users.
Facebook sold the data they had collected to companies who then used it to target advertising campaigns at those users. Cambridge Analytica was a political consulting firm that identified information about users’ political predilections and used it to target very specific types of ads to specific people, and generated usable demographic and psychographic information that helped them in campaigns for their candidates.
As a result of all of this, Facebook has changed some of its policies and features. They have restricted how user data is shared, and will no longer let third-parties (like the companies who develop game apps and other apps you might use while you’re on Facebook) have access to user data. Users, however, have more power over how they manage their profiles and how their behavior is tracked. It’s also showing fewer ads, and herein is the concern for those of us who spend money to advertise there.
What can you do now?
Despite all of this, Facebook remains the most popular social channel, one that still maintains a high degree of trust among users. And as we’ve seen, it offers a variety of ways to convey your message and brand. It still gives you the ability to target your advertising to people based on location and other information they voluntarily provide. So in many ways, not a whole lot as changed, although it looks like over time, users will be increasingly reluctant to share much information about themselves.
If you’ve invested marketing dollars in Facebook, we would suspect you will see very little change to the effect it’s having on your ability to increase awareness and generate leads. Many digital advertising experts suspect there will be very little impact, especially if they already have a presence on Facebook.
A new approach might be helpful, however. One thing you can do is to make your advertising non-invasive. Avoid anything that looks like you’re creepily tracking what a user is clicking on. Instead, just focus on your message of being a great Realtor for their particular geographic location. Instead of ads that focus on a come-on like “book a meeting” or a home evaluation, link your ad to a happy success story about your clients. Or use ads that highlight your community involvement more than delivering a hard-sell.
Many have found success with Facebook Lookalike Audiences. This is a program that enables you to upload a list of your own customers to Facebook and the network then identifies people who resemble that audience. It gives you a way to target without Facebook selling user data. Rather, it’s a way to align your needs with Facebook members who have willingly provided information about themselves.
Alternatively, you may want to experiment with other social networks like Nextdoor, Instagram, or Snapchat. As we’ve outlined previously, social media can help you package your message in a creative, effective, efficient, and cost-friendly way, all in pursuit of increasing our reach among potential clients.
Don’t stop marketing (or believing)
We have survived all kinds of changes to marketing processes. Many of us have relied on forms of advertising that have changed over the years, and we’ve survived. The PennySaver used to be the go-to source for reaching prospects, and even billboards and bus ads have brought many of us lots of business. Digital marketing has changed much of that, but we’ve adapted and continue to thrive.
If your business is being impacted by changes in Facebook’s strategy or other aspects of social media, get with other real estate agents to learn what has helped them deal with it and succeed. We know this won’t be the last time there is change in our marketing strategy, so continuing to learn, experiment, and move forward will help us stay focused and profitable.