As we delve into 2024, many of us are planning our marketing efforts for the year ahead, and deciding where our efforts are best focused. This naturally leads to questioning which platforms are working for you, and which have the potential to bring great results. One common complaint I’ve been hearing for several years now is that Facebook is dead. Indeed, I’ve said this loudly, on many occasions, particularly considering the enduring impact of Apple’s iOS 14 update, introduced back in 2021. This significant change marked a turning point for digital advertising, calling into question the effectiveness of Facebook ads after iOS, and causing many to abandon the platform. 

The update, notable for its introduction of App Tracking Transparency (ATT), fundamentally altered how apps could track user activities, setting new standards for user privacy in the digital realm. This pivotal shift has necessitated a re-evaluation of advertising strategies across multiple platforms, but on Facebook in particular the update proved catastrophic. Ad campaigns that were delivering exceptional results suddenly tanked. The inability to effectively retarget audiences as we once had caused many marketeers to abandon Facebook as an advertising platform, if not abandon it entirely. 

The aftermath of this update continues to echo through the industry, emphasising the critical importance of adapting to new privacy policies and tracking limitations. Advertisers have been compelled to explore innovative approaches that respect user privacy while still delivering effective targeting. We saw a similar phenomenon when GDPR updated in 2018.

But is Facebook really dead? Or can it still be an effective marketing platform, provided we adapt and find new ways of retargeting Meta ads after iOS?

The Transition to Meta and Its Impact on Facebook Ads

In 2021, the rebranding of Facebook Inc. to Meta marked a strategic pivot towards a more interconnected digital experience, dubbed the ‘metaverse’. This shift heralded significant changes for advertisers, notably a unified approach to advertising across Meta platforms, including Facebook and Instagram. The integration offered streamlined campaign management and a cohesive audience targeting experience, crucial in adapting to the post-iOS 14 privacy landscape.

In response to the iOS 14 challenges, Meta rolled out new tools like the enhanced Facebook Conversion API, facilitating more reliable and privacy-compliant user tracking. Additionally, Meta embraced advanced machine learning for smarter ad targeting and optimization. E-commerce expansions, such as Facebook Shops, also emerged, keeping users within Meta’s ecosystem for more direct business-customer interactions. These developments underscored Meta’s commitment to evolving its advertising solutions, balancing effective audience engagement with stringent privacy norms.

The State of Facebook Ads Post iOS 14

The iOS 14 update, specifically the iOS 14.5 version released on April 26, 2021, significantly impacted Facebook’s advertising capabilities, particularly in tracking web conversion events. This was largely due to Apple’s introduction of the App Tracking Transparency (ATT) feature, which emphasised user privacy. As a result, companies running paid social ad campaigns on Facebook experienced a marked impact on performance, with users having the option to opt-in to receiving ads. This has hugely impacted how ads are used on the platform, particularly for entrepreneurs and small business owners, who for years have relied on Facebook and Instagram ads to grow their email lists.

A key metric that changed drastically was the global opt-in rate for data collection, which averaged around 13%, with the US Daily Opt-In Rate averaging around 6% in the first three weeks post-rollout. This low opt-in rate meant that marketers lost access to crucial data, like the Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA), leading to limitations in Facebook Ad targeting options and a reduction in the opportunity for granular targeting and personalised ad copy​​.

There was a noticeable decline in ad impressions on Facebook, making reaching audiences more expensive. I experienced this personally as campaigns I was running at the time for several clients suddenly tanked. The total ad impressions declined by nearly 19% from Q1 to Q2, 2021. This resulted in smaller audience sizes and a substantial increase in the cost-per-thousand (CPM) impressions, which rose by 67% from Q1 to Q2. This shift led to fewer audience insights, giving marketers less control over their campaigns. For example, two-thirds of weekly website conversions were categorised as “unknown” in terms of age demographics just a week after the iOS 14.5 update. By June 2021, 100% of website conversions through Facebook campaigns were grouped as “unknown”​​.

The iOS 14 update’s restrictions on data collection and sharing meant that if Facebook couldn’t track user behaviour, the effectiveness of the tracking pixel and its implications were severely diminished. This led to inaccurate reporting for conversions and ineffective remarketing efforts. Targeting options were weakened, resulting in more wasted ad spend and less personalization of ad copy. Facebook’s response to these updates showed concern over the potential detrimental impact on their revenue, as a significant portion of their user base accesses the platform via mobile devices, with many using iOS​​.

Given these challenges, businesses and marketers need to adapt their strategies. Some immediate workarounds include excluding iOS devices from campaigns with conversion objectives and creating campaigns outside of the conversion objective, utilising website tracking to determine if a sale or conversion occurred​​.

These changes have led to a shift in digital marketing strategies, emphasising the need for more innovative and privacy-compliant methods in advertising.

Adapting Strategies for Facebook Retargeting

Adapting your Facebook retargeting strategies in the wake of the iOS 14 update involves several key approaches to maintain effective engagement with your audience.

Utilising Custom Audiences

One effective method is to use Instagram and Facebook Page custom audiences for retargeting. This involves targeting users who have engaged with your Instagram business account or Facebook Page. For Instagram, targeting everyone who engaged with your professional account is recommended, as it includes all users who visited your account, liked a post, commented, or saved a post. For Facebook, options include targeting everyone who engaged with your Page, visited your Page, or engaged with any post or ad. This broader approach helps in reaching a larger audience base, which is crucial given the data limitations post iOS 14​​.

Exploring Instant Experience and Shopping Custom Audiences

Instant Experience ads, acting as a built-in landing page on Facebook, and Facebook Shops, can be valuable tools. These formats allow for engagement within the Facebook platform, which isn’t affected by the iOS 14 update. By targeting users who interact with these formats, such as those who opened an Instant Experience or viewed products in Shops, you can create custom audiences for retargeting​​.

Consolidating Retargeting into Fewer Ad Sets

Running ads after iOS 14 is more effective to consolidate your retargeting into one or two ad sets rather than segmenting out your audience too much. This change is due to the reduced size of target audiences post-update, making it more efficient to combine audiences for a broader reach​​.

Employing Facebook Conversion API

With tracking cookies becoming less reliable, Facebook’s Conversion API is now a crucial tool. It allows you to send web event data directly from your server to Facebook, offering more accurate data tracking and ensuring more of your conversion events get matched by Facebook​​.

Testing Objectives Beyond Conversions

Finally, it’s advisable to test objectives beyond conversions, such as the Reach objective. This approach can be more effective in engaging your entire audience, especially when dealing with smaller audience sizes post-update​​.

These strategies represent a shift in approach to navigate the new privacy-centric landscape of digital advertising. They involve leveraging the data that Facebook still collects and adapting to the limitations imposed by the iOS 14 update.

The Argument Against Facebook Retargeting

The effectiveness of Facebook retargeting post iOS 14 has been a significant concern for marketers. With the update, tracking limitations have impacted the precision of retargeting campaigns. The iOS 14 update, particularly its App Tracking Transparency feature, has reduced the amount of user data accessible for retargeting, leading to broader and less personalised ad targeting strategies.

One of the key adjustments in retargeting strategies involves focusing on building custom audiences through Facebook’s and Instagram’s on-platform engagement. This means targeting users based on their interactions with content on these platforms, like opening a lead form on Facebook or engaging with an Instagram business account. For instance, segmenting audiences who have engaged with Facebook Lead Ads or used Instagram business accounts helps in crafting more relevant retargeting ads, albeit with a broader targeting scope. The strategy involves leveraging the data that is still available, such as interactions with Instant Experience ads or Facebook Shops, which remain unaffected by the iOS 14 update​​.

The iOS 14 update also led to a change in the Facebook attribution window, shifting from a 28-day to a 7-day click window, which affects the reporting and tracking of purchases outside this timeframe. This change, combined with the high opt-out rates for tracking among iOS users, has resulted in limited data for advertisers to work with. Despite these challenges, retargeting remains a crucial part of Facebook advertising strategies. It’s recommended to focus on creating content that resonates with customers at different stages of their journey, aligning with their specific needs and preferences. This could include using more video content or growing a strong social following, as in-app activities are not impacted by the iOS update. Additionally, expanding audience sizes and using broader targeting parameters can help compensate for the smaller retargeting audiences​​​​.

The argument against Facebook retargeting in the post iOS 14 era revolves around the reduced effectiveness due to these limitations. However, it’s important to remember that retargeting can still be effective if advertisers adapt their strategies to the new landscape. This involves a shift towards leveraging on-platform data and creative strategies to engage audiences, even with the reduced precision in targeting.

The Future of Retargeting on Facebook

The landscape of digital advertising is evolving rapidly, and with the challenges in Facebook retargeting post-iOS updates, marketers are increasingly adopting omnichannel strategies. This approach isn’t just about being present on multiple digital platforms; it’s about creating a cohesive and seamless interaction experience for customers across all channels, both online and offline. Embracing an omnichannel approach means businesses can engage with their audiences more effectively, ensuring a consistent brand message and experience regardless of where the customer interacts with the brand.

Exploring New Frontiers: Alternative Platforms and AI

With Facebook facing data limitations, there’s a noticeable pivot towards alternative social media platforms. Depending on the target audience, platforms like TikTok, LinkedIn, or even emerging ones offer fresh ground for innovative advertising. Additionally, AI and machine learning are becoming pivotal in optimising ad campaigns. These technologies offer the power to analyse large sets of data for better targeting and campaign performance, even when traditional data sources are limited.

The Rising Value of Creative Content and Storytelling

In the new era of digital marketing, where data might be scarce, the power of creative content and storytelling becomes more prominent. Engaging narratives, compelling visuals, and interactive content can cut through the noise, enhancing brand recall and customer engagement. This approach goes beyond just selling a product; it’s about creating a memorable brand experience that resonates with the audience on a deeper level.

The Growing Importance of First-Party Data

The iOS updates have underscored the importance of first-party data – the information collected directly from customers. This data is crucial for personalising marketing efforts and building deeper customer relationships. Marketers are now focusing more on strategies to collect and leverage first-party data, such as through loyalty programs, customer feedback, and direct interactions.

Adaptability and Continuous Innovation: The New Marketing Mantra

The key to thriving in this rapidly changing environment is adaptability and innovation. Marketers need to be agile, ready to pivot strategies as the landscape evolves, and continuously innovate to find new ways to engage with their audiences. Staying informed about technological advancements, regulatory changes, and emerging consumer trends is essential to anticipate and adapt to the future of digital advertising.

Looking Ahead: Transforming Challenges into Opportunities

The current challenges in digital advertising, especially in retargeting on platforms like Facebook, should be viewed as opportunities. They push businesses to think out of the box, explore new platforms and strategies, and connect with their audience in more meaningful ways. This period of transformation is an invitation to marketers to reinvent and reimagine the way they engage with their customers, setting the stage for a more dynamic and interactive future in digital marketing.

How To Do Facebook Ads After iOS

The advent of Apple’s iOS 14 update has been a watershed moment for Facebook Ads, compelling a strategic shift in digital marketing. The landscape now demands adaptation when you’re running social ads, moving away from the granular targeting of the past to a broader, more innovative approach. It’s crucial for businesses to recognize that success in this new era hinges on their ability to evolve, embracing diverse strategies and tools that align with updated privacy norms and changing user behaviours.

In response to these challenges, businesses are encouraged to explore and integrate a mix of digital platforms, leverage advanced technologies like AI for smarter targeting, and focus on creating compelling content. The emphasis should be on building genuine connections with audiences, utilising first-party data, and maintaining flexibility in marketing tactics. By adapting to these changes and embracing innovation, businesses can continue to harness the power of Facebook Ads effectively, ensuring sustained growth and relevance in the dynamic world of digital marketing.

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