Tag : facebook

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210: Facebook Wants Advertisers to Cut to the Chase

Last week, Facebook began rolling out a new advertiser restriction, which has already impacted my clients’ accounts. It will most likely be the biggest change in years for marketers on the platform. After Facebook’s analytics showed audiences responding poorly to verbose ads, they cut the visible amount of text available in an ad. Now, audiences will see three lines of text instead of seven above the photo, slideshow, or video content. (The character limit of the headline and subhead underneath remain the same.) That’s 57% less text above the image area!

Advertisers will have a choice between getting their copy to fit neatly into three lines of Facebook text or having a two-line preview with a “Read more…” link underneath those two lines that will expand to the full seven lines of text. This has been how the ads have shown on Instagram for more than a year. So, now both platforms will incentivize advertisers to hook consumers in two or three short sentences—like Google has been doing for two decades.

Who This Benefits

With less text to read, advertisers will be pressed to fit the American consumer attention span. Those who adapt to this space will hold a competitive advantage over those who don’t. For auctioneers who focus on the asset’s benefits and the audience’s perceived need, this will help them get more and cheaper clicks than bid callers who lead with “AUCTION!” Online auctioneers will benefit, because they can shorten auction information and calls to action to just “Bid now,” or “Bidding now open.”

Who This Hurts the Most

Auctions with a diverse quantity of asset categories will feel this pinch more than any other auction type. Large estates, business liquidations, and tax-delinquency auctions will prove the most difficult to describe in the short space. Offline auctions will have to choose between selling the event or selling the assets well.

How to Minimize the Limitation  

THINK LIKE A SIGN MAKER.

Ask yourself what would be most important to say if you had only three to five seconds—because you do. Use only enough text to generate a motivation to click. If someone’s not hooked on the headline, the secondary and tertiary details won’t sell them anyway.

LEVERAGE COLLAGES.

For the past four years I’ve been using collages instead of single images to maximize my advertising copy, especially on auctions with a variety of assets. Facebook’s image window is 1,200 x 628 pixels. I’ve created templates for three, four, five, and six photos to appear together. Facebook allows advertisers to select up to six of these collages per ad. Facebook’s artificial intelligence engine determines which collage(s) will get the most clicks and most efficient traffic for each audience and then adapts the ads to display the top-performing one(s). Having spent almost a million dollars on Facebook advertising, I’ve found that these collages outperform slideshows and videos just short of 100% of the time.

DON’T PUT TEXT ON YOUR PHOTOS.

You can’t cheat the system by putting text somewhere else. Facebook penalizes performance of ads with text embedded in the images—if they approve the ads at all. If you put text in your videos, use it only as captions. Facebook has revealed that you have seven seconds to hook 75% of their users and less than fifteen seconds on the rest. Show the property instead of headlines, your company logo, or a cameo of you talking about the property. 80%of Facebook users view videos on mute.

USE MORE AUDIENCES

Rather than generic text that tries to attract a range of different buyer interests, write succinct copy to each buyer group in separate ad sets. I’ve seen success with this tactic. With a brick ranch, for instance, you might target audiences of:
• investors with “Buy more cash flow.”
• brokers with “We pay buyer brokers.”
• end users with “Buy a home on YOUR budget!”
• flippers with “Make quick sweat equity.”

While this change is inconvenient for almost all of us, it creates another Darwinian opportunity for professional marketers to separate themselves from those unwilling to adapt. Commissions are at stake, if not business models. Whether you outsource your social media or handle it in-house, you’ll be best served by viewing the asset through your buyers’ eyes instead of your own—and then using as few words and characters as possible to sell them.

Stock images purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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209: Get More Wealth-Qualified Bidders to Your Real Estate Auction

Just about every week, I get a humorous answer to the question, “Who would you like to target with the auction advertising?” 

The answer goes something like, “Someone thinking of buying a vacation home” or “Someone interested in 40 acres” or “Someone who wants a hobby farm.”

Rich Real Estate Prospects

Those answers are funny because we can’t buy a list of people who have wants, wishes, and dreams. Even Facebook with all of its big brotherness and artificial intelligence doesn’t have a category for people thinking about buying real estate. Even as an advertiser, I’m cool with that. I mean—I don’t know about you—but I’m glad our thoughts aren’t harvested, cataloged, and sold to advertisers.

We can advertise where people search for these kinds of properties—both search engines like Google and asset sites like LoopNet.com, LakeHouse.com, or LandAndFarm.com. One of the downsides of that approach, though, is that in most cases your auction property can be found only when the prospect is actively searching or subscribing to emails. While those searchers are highly qualified prospects, not every potential buyer is searching during an auction’s short marketing timeframe. And some dreamers and wishers and wanters haven’t started digitally searching yet.

So, we’re left with disruptive advertising methods, aimed at people who are qualified to bid but more obliquely interested. The primary qualification we as an industry have typically leveraged is income or net worth. That’s because interest in a property without the financial ability to purchase is of no value to us or our sellers. We don’t want a lot of unqualified web traffic, especially since it can negatively interfere with our remarketing efforts.

Well then, how do we reach wealth-qualified prospects? Here are the four ways my clients and I find them.

Buy some secret sauce.

On August 2, 2018, Facebook withdrew third party data from our advertiser options. This included the valuable credit bureau criteria like net worth, income, home value, and mortgage applications. Those third party sources like AccuData, Acxiom, Equifax, Experian, and InfoUSA still have that data available for purchase. (One list I’ve found very valuable is the absentee acreage owners list, which can be sorted by county and even by various acreage thresholds.) We can use the lists we purchase for direct mail, Facebook, and Google audiences. Facebook and Google allow us to create lookalikes of the uploaded list. So, we don’t have to purchase huge lists to advertise to huge audiences. What’s been amazing to me over the years is how much more effective those lookalike audiences are than the original lists.

Use a time machine.

If you do a lot of auctions in a particular real estate segment, one of the best ways to find new buyers is to generate lookalikes of your bidders from past auctions. Several data companies can match your in-house list to their database and find lookalike profiles to the people they could match. You can then purchase that list for mailing and in some cases even emailing. If you’re not looking for an email or direct mail list, I’d go the free route. You can also upload you past bidder list to Facebook and Google to create lookalike audiences for your digital advertising. You don’t pay for that service, just the ads targeting the final audience.

Change the headline instead of the audience.

When we don’t have budget or access to the above audiences, I have tried Facebook’s real estate investor categories. “But this isn’t an investment property,” my clients have emailed me. They’re not wrong. But what do real estate investors have? Capital. Or access to financing. The headlines change from “Buy more cash flow” to “Own the home you deserve” and from “Make money with this unit” to “Luxury living on your budget.” In our flip-this-house culture, not all real estate investors are liquid; and not all are looking for their long-term home. But a subset is in our target audience; and we’re almost always chasing a subset of whatever audience we’re targeting anyway.

Exploit the power of cloning.

Once you’ve deployed any or all of the three options above, finding wealth-qualified prospects gets easier. Using the (free) Facebook and Google pixels on your website, you can have the world’s largest marketing engines find people who look just like those who investigated your auction’s page on your site. If you’ve attracted the right people in the early stages of your campaign, the artificial intelligence will multiply your best prospects. For advertising to sellers, this Google option can be valuable. For short-term auction campaigns, I recommend the Facebook platform—again, for the disruptive nature of its ads. Like Google, Facebook ads show on other news and pop culture sites; so, your prospect doesn’t have to be checking their Facebook app or newsfeed to see your ads.

For all of these audiences, you can sort them further on Facebook by interest categories. So, you can take any of these lists and sift them by people who like horses or hunting or boating or whatever pastime connects with your property. All of these lists can be sorted by age, though Facebook will soon be doing away with age sorting on real estate ads

Never in human history has targeting thousands of wealthy people been so easy or inexpensive. Thankfully, that means we can get better results for our sellers in shorter time frames and on smaller budgets. And now more of us small business professionals can look like marketing geniuses to our sellers.

Stock photos purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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207: 5 Ways to Get More Clicks from Facebook Video Ads

While photo-based ads typically outperform video and slideshow ads for my clients, I have seen videos deliver significant website traffic for some auctions. If you do reminder ads to pixel traffic, a slideshow or video can add value by mixing some variety into your second interaction with potential buyers. If you’re using video on your website, anyway, it’s worth experimenting with video ads and even A/B testing them with photo-based ads. Your videos will perform much better both in those tests and in general, if they follow the following guidelines. 

Use short videos.

I know you paid a lot for that drone or for that drone vendor. There might be more than 600 lots or a huge variety of items in your catalog. But “ain’t nobody got time for that.” 

You've Got 15 Seconds

Facebook recommends videos of 15 seconds or less, and they don’t even allow videos longer than 30 seconds on Instagram. That’s probably because their study with Nielson showed “that up to 47% of the value in a video campaign was delivered in the first three seconds, while up to 74% of the value was delivered in the first ten.”1

Lead with the buyer interest.

Don’t be like most of the auction industry. Do not start with 
• your company logo (which already shows above every Facebook ad), 
• the word “auction”—let alone “real estate auction” or “farm equipment auction”
• the estate name, or 
• the auction date.

If you’ve got three seconds to grab a buyer, lead with what they care about: the asset, the problem the asset will solve, or the future version of themselves with the asset. If you feel absolutely undeterred to include all of that tertiary content, there’s plenty of room for it in the headline, sub headline, and advertising copy spaces Facebook provides for all video ads.

Don’t depend on sound.

Admit it: we’re all scrolling Facebook in places and situations where we don’t want others to hear the videos in our streams. According to Hootsuite, 85% of Facebook videos are viewed without sound. 2 Facebook reports that 80% of their users have negative reactions to videos that play loudly when sound wasn’t expected. 1 So, take advantage of captions, or use the included headline, sub headline, and advertising copy space to convey your message.

Mobile Shopping

Show the assets, not the salesman.

Unless you’re a celebrity—sorry: none of you reading this are (neither am I)—people aren’t buying anything because of our faces. You might think you’re the exception to this rule. You’re not. Neither is that car dealer that interrupts your football games. Our reputations and brands matter but not until someone is already interested in a purchase. Show people what they want: the asset or what the asset will do for them. If you’ve got the budget, celebrity endorsements do work—just typically not for selling haybines, excavators, real estate, or machine shop metal brakes.

Optimize for landing page views.

Most business people who post videos on Facebook do them on their business’ Facebook page. That doesn’t hurt anything. (I’ve been asked that question.) Boosting or promoting those posts allows you to optimize the ad for likes, comments, and shares. So, Facebook shows them to people who are likely to like, comment, and share. My clients, though—especially the ones with online bidding available—pay me to get bidders off of Facebook and over to their website. To optimize for that, you’ll want to create a Facebook ad from either Ads Manager or Business Manager. There, you can optimize the video for link clicks or—even better—landing page views. So, Facebook will show the ads first to those most likely to click or go to your website. (A landing page view requires the consumer to wait for the page on your site to load before clicking back. Landing page view optimization requires a Facebook pixel installed on your website.)

Get More Mobile Clicks

If you play with Facebook videos, play by the rules. You’ll look to consumers like a digital native and a professional brand. More importantly, your cost per click will plummet. That will allow your video content to be seen by hundreds or thousands of more people for the same cost.

Stock images purchased from iStockPhoto.com.

1 “Capture Attention with Updated Features for Video Ads,” Facebook.com, February 10, 2016.

2 ”Silent Video: How to Optimize Facebook Video to Play Without Sound,” by Christina Newberry, Hootsuite.com, May 2, 2017.

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Sorry: “Sold!” Isn’t Enough For Sellers

Six years ago tomorrow, my wife and I moved into our current home. Since moving here, we’ve witnessed something uncanny or at least new to us. Real estate agents regularly ask us to sell our house. Once or twice, they’ve done it in person on my doorstep. One of my neighbors actually sold his brand new home—that wasn’t on the market—to a stranger who knocked on his front door and asked him to sell it.

A few months ago, I received one of these solicitations by way of a postcard. It didn’t convince me to sell, because my wife hates moving and says we have to live in our house at least a decade. It did intrigue me, though, because I rarely see auction companies pursue sellers so well. The graphic design wasn’t impressive. The photos weren’t groundbreaking. It’s copywriting wasn’t clever, but its message was something I can rarely convince auctioneers to use.

Scan of Postcard mentioned

Without that message, I am uncomfortable wasting auctioneer’s money on advertising to sellers. Every winter, a line of auctioneers call or email me about getting more sellers. This winter was no different. The consultation unfortunately doesn’t continue long after I ask them the following questions:

  • What makes your auction service uniquely better than a seller’s other options?
  • What do they get with you that they won’t get anywhere else?
  • What is your typical seller’s pain point?
  • How do you solve that problem?
  • What supporting evidence do you have to prove that you consistently solve that problem?

No matter what the seller problem is, it typically comes down to one or more of the following:

  • They want (or need) money in a hurry.
  • They want (or need) more money than what other sale methods might net them.
  • They want easier money—fewer negotiation exchanges and/or no contingencies.

Instead of telling sellers we can get them more money, faster money, and/or easier money, we in the auction community tend to push something ambiguous like a transparent process or true market value. Sellers don’t want true market value. They want the most money possible. 

Sellers Want More than "Sold!"

Most of the auctioneers I’ve consulted this winter want me to tell potential sellers that they can get properties or estates or equipment sold. The problem is that those sellers don’t doubt auctions sell stuff. They want to know prices realized relative to the market. Like you and me, they’ve seen real estate and personal property sell for pennies on the dollar in auctions; and they’ve seen news stories about art and jewelry that sell for record-breaking figures. Most of the sellers we’re pursuing aren’t in the Sotheby’s/Christie’s asset categories; and they want reliable information to assure them they won’t lose their shirts. 

“Sold!” isn’t enough. 
“Sold at auction!” isn’t, either.

As an industry and as individual companies, we’re up against objective headlines like the one on this postcard:

SOLD IN ONLY 3 DAYS
$3,100 OVER ASKING PRICE!
Another happy client!
Learn about our “Easy Exit” listing agreement

To be sure, not all real estate markets are like the one in my school district. And this probably isn’t the result of all of Acree Brothers Realty’s listings even here. Every hit isn’t a home run. It doesn’t have to be. Unlike a listing, almost every auction we conduct should result in at least one of the three headlines—more money, faster money, or easier money. All we need to do is consistently tout that. For $35, you can tell sellers about that auction’s more/faster/easier result for a week in your market on Facebook. If you don’t think your potential sellers are part of the 70%+ of U.S. adults with a Facebook account or the 50% of U.S. adults who check Facebook daily, you can mail a postcard showcasing a group of your results to your top prospects every couple months for about a dollar a piece (not counting design).

Successful sales—whether auctions, buyouts, or listings—are your best seller acquisition tool.

If you’re not having more/faster/easier auctions, then you need to chase people who don’t care about how fast a transaction takes, how much they’ll make, or how difficult the process will be. Those folks comprise a niche for another discussion. Everyone else—farmers, retirees, debtors, collectors, consignors, loan officers, mansion owners, middle managers, estate executors, and special commissioners—they’re all looking for more money, faster money, and/or easier money.

Successful advertising happens when a company connects their solution with a consumer’s need, want, or aspiration. If our advertising doesn’t start there, it won’t usually get there. That must be our lead, our focus, our headline. Customers won’t care about our services until we prove we care about their situations. The auctioneers who do that best and most often get to be the ones with the best and most frequent commission checks.

Another Samples
This postcard arrived in the mail two days after I wrote this post after a door hanger solicitation the previous day.

Stock images purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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204: What Happened When I Got a Taste of My Own Medicine?

Hair Club for Men

Most of us are old enough to remember the awkward Hair Club for Men TV commercials of the 80’s and 90’s. Even if not, you’ve still probably heard the spokesman’s iconic tagline: “I’m not just the president. I’m a client.” Sy Sperling was trying to combat the perception of snake oil sales by taking his own medicine. He forwent some of his dignity with the before picture for the payoff of the after picture and what it stood for.

Dr. Barry Marshall took this concept a step further when trying to prove to the world that stomach ulcers are caused by bacteria and not stress. The physician, who would later win the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (and eight other medical research awards), drank a solution of ulcer-causing bacteria, knowing it would lead to days of discomfort with stomach ulcers before treatment could alleviate his pain. He knew the science would work. He changed long-held assumptions by using himself as the guinea pig.

Don’t we all wish we knew our program would work that confidently?

One of the challenges of my consulting sessions over the past decade has been the difference between my business sensibilities and those of my clients. Auctioneers are much bigger risk takers than I am. I get anxious when asked, “What would you do here?” for an auction I wouldn’t have signed. I feel ill equipped when asked for direction in the frequent interesting situations where all I’ve got are educated guesses. I get nervous spending other people’s money to throw noodles against the wall to see what sticks, because I wouldn’t want other professionals doing that with my money.

At the same time, that’s why I’m bullish on the strategies you’ve read in the last several years’ worth of my blog posts. I’ve tested this stuff multiple times per week for different clients selling various asset categories in multiple geographic markets. Maybe just as important: I’ve tested this on my own company promotion. I’ve changed my advertising headlines to focus on auctioneer pain points and solutions. I’ve positioned myself as a guide to make auctioneers heroes rather than as a hero for hire.  And I’ve used the advanced Facebook ecosystem tools I use for my clients every day.

 

Biplane graphs

Biplane Productions opened for business 16 years ago this week. You can see in the charts above that this triumvirate shift not only halted downward trends but also grew my quantity of auctions and billable work far beyond my previous high points. Before and after this transition, I taught for the National Auctioneers Association (NAA). Before and after this transition, I wrote articles for state and national auctioneer publications. Before and after this transition, I blogged and forwarded those blogs to hundreds of industry subscribers.

What changed was the messaging and how I delivered that message. Those are same two things I suggest auctioneers change about both their auction advertising and their company promotion.

I’ve also long told auctioneers that their best company promotion is consistently-good auction promotion. Fantastic sale prices create buzz and confidence. Taking good care of the transaction at hand brings more transactions. Following that advice has brought me new business, especially for my Facebook services. I get tagged in comments within auctioneer discussions all the time. My clients are sharing their success stories so much now that I’m working for dozens more auction companies per year than I was just a few years ago. People who’ve not seen my actual work and even auctioneers I’ve not met in person want to hire me as a vendor—in part because now my auction advertising is blowing up their friends’ commissions and/or lowered their auction budgets.

This past summer, a schedule conflict caused me to miss the NAA’s Conference & Show for the first time since 2002. Since I couldn’t mingle or teach a class, I relied on Facebook and Instagram to keep me in front of the auctioneers in Jacksonville. I built three ads to appear to auctioneers and NAA fans within a mile of the convention center. Along with those, I designated a fourth one to appear to auctioneers and NAA fans across the country.

Conference & Show ads

I got several inquiries and two new clients out of those ads that week. (Between you and me, I rarely get new clients from Conference & Show.) I didn’t try to wow an audience with a continuing education class that took hours of prep work and days out of the office. I didn’t treat anyone to dinner or breakfast. I just succinctly spoke to perceived needs and wants in a convincing way. My acquisition cost was a small fraction of my typical outlay for travel, lodging, and conference registration.

Does this mean I drop NAA events from my routine? No. Just as with auction advertising, sometimes inefficient marketing pays long-term dividends. Not every auction can afford expensive advertising, though. Efficient advertising comes in handy when the budget is small, when the campaign requires a lot of experimentation or guerrilla tactics—especially if you know what made it efficient.

Facebook ads (and even more so Instagram ads) force us advertisers to get to the point. Ads that make that point about the consumer instead of about the auction turn already-cheap website visits into ridiculously-cheap website visits. It’s not enough just to have advertising on the right platform. You have to speak the language of its audience when you get there.

This summer, I A/B tested a client’s requested headlines, audiences, and photos against my selections for those auctions. With the same assets in the same auctions, my cost per click ranged from 33% to 55% of the costs of their ads. I was able to get 45% to 67% more people to their website on the same budget.

How did I know something like that would be the result? What gave me the confidence to bet on myself? It wasn’t that I had some secret knob to turn or switch to flip. I just knew what to expect from what I’ve observed across hundreds of auctions and dozens of my own company promotions. I’ve benefited from drinking my own Kool-Aid and taking my own medicine for the past three years. I’m a convert and a missionary, the doctor and the patient, the scientist and the test subject. I don’t think I’m the president of the club, but I’m most definitely a member of it.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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203: Two (Misguided) Questions Auctioneers Ask About Facebook Advertising

At the end of July, a Wall Street selloff knocked $119,400,000 off Facebook’s market capitalization. Over two days, the Silicon Valley giant lost almost 20% of its estimated value (though only back to its stock price as of April). Hunted by European litigators and questioned by the United States senate, the company has spent the summer rebuilding its brand.

Facebook stock price

With the largest social media platform in the news almost every day this summer, I’ve seen auctioneers asking two questions:
• What are you doing to ensure you don’t have all your eggs in the Facebook basket?
• Where will you advertise if/when Facebook goes away?

Facebook Market Cap

As someone who spends hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on Facebook advertising and makes a third of my income from Facebook marketing services, you’d think I’d be asking these questions, too. I’m not. Here’s why.

Facebook isn’t going away any time soon.

Even with the big drop, Facebook is still one of the wealthiest, most profitable companies on the planet. This isn’t a MySpace situation. For one thing, even a fraction of Facebook’s market share would make it the most robust platform on which to pursue clients. LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, Reddit, and Twitter combined have only as many users as Instagram, Facebook’s secondary platform. 1 Almost one out of every three people on Earth have a Facebook account. That’s amazing by itself but even moreso when you consider that only 54% of the world’s population uses the Internet. 2 In the United States, more adults check Facebook each day than read all American newspapers—combined—during the course of a week.

Facebook comparison

The next thing will be easy to spot.

There’s a case to be made that social media as a media category might decline someday when people grow tired of the comparison game it represents. Facebook, being the biggest player, would probably take the biggest hit. Nothing happens in a vacuum, though. If you remove social media from daily practice, something new will grow to fill that space. What won’t occupy that space is traditional media. It definitely won’t be newspaper, as the American attention span continues to shrink. Nobody confidently knows what’s next or when it will get here, but it will require at least as much adaptation and intuition to operate there as Facebook demands now. Whatever moves into that space will approach with lots of buzz and probably fanfare much like Facebook did more than a decade ago.

Facebook isn’t monolithic.

Facebook isn’t just Facebook. It’s not just Instagram and WhatsApp and Messenger, either. Facebook’s Audience Network spans scores of the prominent news and entertainment sites on the Internet. Like Google’s display ad network, Facebook ads appear all over the web to visitors with Facebook accounts. So, even if someone deletes the Facebook and Instagram apps from their phone or just never uses them, they can still be targeted by Facebook’s ads. In fact, on a per-ad basis, Facebook daily analyzes from which of its platforms people are most efficiently coming to your website and adjusts your daily spend proportionally. If you’re eggs are all in one Facebook basket, it’s a lot bigger basket than you might realize.

Facebook isn’t the only go-to pitch now, anyway.

There are some rare auctions where I advise a campaign to have at least 90% of the budget allocated to Facebook, but those represent the exception and not the rule. What you’re selling, where you’re selling it, and how you’re selling it influence the media mix. This is also true of the resources available to you like (1) email subscribers and (2) past bidder registrations for the same asset category being advertised. Sometimes, a public relations campaign does your heavy lifting on a truly unique auction. Sometimes, a purchased mailing list is the most targeted tool available. There are even a handful of newsprint outlets I still recommend. Often, media choices aren’t based on efficiency or efficacy but on assumptions and perceptions the seller has to feel like you covered all of your bases. If you are avidly tracking all media individually in Google Analytics for every auction, you’ll know what media you use for buyers & sellers and which ones you use for branding or showmanship. You’ll also be able to see trends as they happen.

When I look at the Facebook accounts of the auctioneers asking these questions, I typically find people who aren’t well-versed in Facebook advertising. I wonder if they are hoping for the seemingly-complicated reality of Facebook’s paid advertising to go away so they can get back to the set-it-and-forget-it nature of traditional media. If they got the efficient results my clients do on Facebook, I’m not sure they’d wish for this strike-out pitch to disappear. Even if their wish came true, though, it would be a long, slow decline.

The more important questions to ask are:
• How am I adapting to the changing buying culture?
• What have my experimentation and analytics shown me recently?

Marketers who don’t continually ask themselves those questions will eventually be replaced by those in companies who do. That should worry every auctioneer far more than the future of Facebook.

1 “Top 15 Most Popular Social Media Sites and Apps [August 2018]” by Priit Kallas, Dreamgrow.com, August 2018.

2 “Internet Users in the World by Regions” by Internet World Stats.com, December 21, 2017.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com. All other images linked to their respective sources.

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Why Facebook’s Big Step Back Helps (Some of) Us Auction Marketers

Almost all of my favorite movies fall into the heist genre. I met my Hollywood crush, Jessica Biel, in The Illusionist. I have been driving a MINI Cooper since soon after I got The Italian Job on DVD. The strategy and choreography of fictional thieves intrigue me, and I love the slight of hand stuff. The end-of-movie reveals make me feel unobservant, even as they wow me.

The Trump presidency has offered a similar unveiling, particularly when it comes to Facebook. I’ll explain that in a minute.

2016 Presidential General Election

First, let’s time travel back five years—two years before Donald Trump declared his candidacy for President. Facebook gave access to Global Science Research (GSR) to do some academic research amongst its users. 300,000 Facebook users opted in to take part in a study. Exploiting an application programming interface (API), GSR grabbed data from somewhere between 50 and 87 million Facebook users who were connected to those 300,000 volunteers. GSR then—against Facebook data policy—sold this data to Cambridge Analytica, which used it to create psychographic profile groups it would later shop to multiple political candidates.

Facebook discovered this data breach in 2015, shut down the API in question, and demanded both parties delete the data they had harvested. A year later, having not complied, Cambridge Analytica used its data as part of its digital marketing for the Trump campaign. Once officially gaining the nomination, Trump abandoned their data, having access to the Republican National Committee’s database. (Hillary Clinton refused Cambridge Analytica’s services from the start, instead using the mirrored resource of the Democratic National Committee’s storehouse of data.)

A few months later, candidate Trump became President-elect Trump. As many have sought to explain his uncanny rise to power, intense blame and scrutiny have been levied on all sorts of possible culprits. Much of that blame has fallen on Facebook—whether for Russia’s incredibly efficient interference or for Cambridge Analytica’s data deal.

Over the past month, tens of thousands of Facebook users—including Elon Musk and Will Ferrell, Pep Boys and Playboy—have left the platform in protest. Pundits and journalists have been whipping consumers into a frenzy, telling them their data isn’t safe or private, that the proprietary algorithms that run Facebook need to be shared with the world. Few of the stories I’ve heard or read have made much of the fact that this data breach is half a decade old and that it wouldn’t be possible to duplicate today and hasn’t been since April 30, 2015.

Mark Zuckerberg

In response, Facebook brass has recently invited regulation and offered some seemingly-draconian proactive changes to their platform. One of the biggest measures Mark Zuckerberg offered was the phasing out of Partner Categories. If you’re not familiar with this data set, it’s information from third-party sources like Acxiom, Experian, and Oracle Data Cloud. Facebook has been taking up to 15% of advertiser spending to buy matching data from these sources. That data includes all the stuff in your credit report and other public information. That’s how Facebook knows users’ income, net worth, cash accounts, home values, purchase history, and likely-to-move status (among hundreds of other data point). When matched with its user accounts and/or advertisers’ uploaded lists, this data helps create highly targeted lookalike audiences. These free lookalike audiences have allowed small businesses to compete with Fortune 100 companies in the marketplace.

While removing these data sources seems like consumer protection, the opposite might actually be true. That’s where the slight of hand comes in. See, that data is still available. Right now, I can buy a lot of this third party data from my mailing list broker for $100. I can buy even more robust data from Experian and Axciom, too. Then, I can upload that data to Facebook to create custom audiences to use as filters for my other lists.

With this new move, Facebook now doesn’t have to charge advertisers for these third-party data sources, and they can show regulators that their advertisers are using only audiences based on user-revealed interests and the advertisers’ proprietary lists. That third party data will still get leveraged in the advertising system, and now it won’t raise any red flags.

As a consumer, I don’t care either way. Personally, I prefer my ads tied as closely to my interests and realities as possible; and I know this data is pooled as anonymous aggregates that no advertiser or hacker can see. As an advertiser, I’m a little bummed that I’ll now have to buy that data separately and at prices not negotiated by one of the biggest companies on the planet.

Because Facebook currently allows your lookalike audiences to remain in tact even after your original audience criteria has been removed, those of us who’ve been leveraging this third-party data for years should have an advertising advantage until Facebook closes that loophole—should they eventually close it. Either way, I don’t mind suddenly getting a new advantage in Facebook advertising.

Mark Zuckerberg took days to respond to the uproar online and on TV news networks so that he could follow the advice of J Daniel Atlas, the protagonist of Now You See Me, a flick that featured illusionists plying their craft to perform Robin Hood-type heists: “First rule of magic: always be the smartest person in the room.” Zuckerberg offered an olive branch to the media, the government, and Facebook users. Along with that he secured Facebook’s place as the most advanced, intuitive advertising platform for the foreseeable future.

Even Terry Benedict’s casinos aren’t sophisticated enough to have seen this brilliant move coming. But now your company is. You’re welcome.

Stock photos purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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