Ever since Facebook launched its advertising platform in 2010, it has been one of the most lucrative platforms for advertisers due to its microtargeting capabilities.
However, in recent years, Facebook has faced growing outcry over discrimination caused by these same targeting tools.
This culminated in five discrimination lawsuits by leading civil rights and labor organizations. In response, Facebook agreed to make significant changes to combat discriminatory ads on the platform. This includes Facebook’s new Special Ads Category that prohibits targeting by age, gender, ZIP Code, multicultural affinity, and some detailed targeting options that appear to relate to protected characteristics.
In this post, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the changes to Facebook’s advertising policies, how these changes affect real estate Facebook ads and provide strategies to make sure you’re still maximizing the results from your ads.
Leading civil rights groups filed five separate lawsuits that claimed that Facebook's targeting options allowed advertisers to exclude protected groups such as racial minorities, women and older workers from seeing housing, employment and credit ads, which is prohibited by federal and state law.
One of these was a March 2018 lawsuit filed by the National Fair Housing Alliance that challenged Facebook’s demographics and behavioral targeting options that allowed advertisers to place housing ads that excluded families with children, women, and other protected groups.
As stated in the complaint, this advanced targeting is explicitly illegal according to the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which prohibits advertisers from discriminating based on race, religion, national origin, gender, disabilities, family status, and other protected categories in the sale, rental, financing, or advertising of housing.
In March 2019, Facebook reached a settlement to resolve these claims, in which it agreed to implement sweeping changes to its targeting policies.
In August, Facebook announced Special Ad Categories that apply to housing, employment, and credit ads. Ads in these categories do not have the option to target based on gender, age, ZIP Code, race, and other protected categories.
Advertisers want to reach people in the United States with a Housing ad must select the Special Ad Category when they are creating an ad, or their ad will not be published.
If you’re running an ad that relates to housing opportunities (if you’re a real estate agent, you probably are), you must mark it as a Housing Category ad.
You will see this as the first step of any new advertising campaign that you run. Check the box to specify that you are running an ad campaign in a Special Ad Category, and then select the Housing category from the drop-down menu.
According to Facebook, a Housing Category ad includes “ads that promote or directly link to a housing opportunity or related service, including but not limited to listings for the sale or rental of a home or apartment, homeowners insurance, mortgage insurance, mortgage loans, housing repairs and home equity or appraisal services.”
However, Facebook maintains that this is not an all-inclusive list of examples, and to begin, it will be applying the rules broadly. To avoid your ad being disapproved, we recommend marking all ads that you run for your real estate business as a Housing Category ad.
The biggest implication for real estate agents is the decreased targeting options, which now only includes a few hundred choices.
With Facebook’s new Special Ad Categories, advertisers cannot discriminate based on age or gender, race, or other demographics. You’ll notice significant differences when setting up your Facebook ads in two places.
The first is that you can no longer target based on age or gender. When creating your ad in a Special Ad Category, you’ll see that when creating your audience, there is no option to change the age range or specify gender.
Even if you are advertising properties that are exclusively available to a specific age group, you cannot edit this targeting.
The second place you'll find targeting restrictions is in Facebook's detailed targeting. Detailed targeting options that describe or appear to relate to protected classes are no longer available to Housing advertisers. These include all of the options under the “Behaviors” category and all of the options under the “Demographics” category. These restrictions ensure that Facebook advertisers comply with the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which prohibits discrimination for housing opportunities based on age, gender, race, and other protected categories.
What this means for agents: Instead of targeting based on demographics and behaviors, real estate agents still have limited options under the “Interests” category. Interests that apply to real estate agents and are still available under the new Housing Ad Category rules include: Starter home, terraced home, vacation rental, Zillow, Trulia, townhouse, terraced house, swimming pool, solar power, single-family detached home, penthouse apartment, moving company, mortgage loans, land, Land and Houses, House Hunting, Home equity loan, Gated Community, First-time buyer, first time buyer grant, Duplex (building), Condominium
When creating your audience, you can no longer target ZIP Codes, and cities, addresses, and dropped pins must include a minimum 15-mile radius.
This prevents advertisers from using highly specific location targeting in order to include or exclude people based on race, gender, age, or other protected categories.
What this means for agents: Your targeting will be less-specific, but you can still target the general location of your target market. When creating your ad, make sure to include information about the specific location of the property to ensure that your ad produces high-quality leads.
You'll also notice new restrictions when it comes to creating lookalike audiences. Lookalike audiences are audiences that real estate agents have often used in the past to target cold audiences that share similar characteristics to their client base. Because Facebook uses demographics information prohibited by the new rules (age, gender, and other protected categories), advertisers can no longer use Lookalike audiences for ads in the Housing Category. Instead, there is a new version specifically for Special Ad Categories, called a Special Ad Audience.
What this means for agents: Instead of using Lookalike audiences to target people similar to those already in your funnel or client base, you will now need to create a Special Ad Audience. This audience is essentially a Lookalike audience but does not consider age, gender, ZIP Code, or other demographic information prohibited by the Housing Special Ad Category. While it is less specific, Special Ad Audiences are still an effective way to reach a qualified audience with your real estate Facebook ads.
Looking ahead to 2020, Facebook will continue to roll out updates to its advertising policies to ensure that they are non-discriminatory and inclusive.
At the beginning of next year, advertisers and developers will be required to update campaigns that launched before December 4. In addition, Facebook stated that as part of its new policies it will enable people to search and view all current housing ads in the U.S., regardless of whether those ads would potentially be shown to them.
While Facebook’s Special Ad Categories present many limitations for real estate agents, Facebook ads still have one of the highest ROI’s when it comes to real estate advertising.
In addition to targeting, Facebook ads are so effective because Facebook’s algorithm delivers your ads based on who is most likely to complete your campaign objective. Carefully determine your campaign objective for your ad to ensure that you achieve the highest ROI possible.
Targeting your website visitors from your Facebook pixel is another strategy to reach a highly targeted audience that is already interested in your business, while still complying with Facebook’s targeting policies.
It is also important to make sure that your copy and creative clearly communicate the details of your ad. This way, your audience can self-select for ads that they are interested in, and you’ll get higher quality leads from your ads.
With a few adaptations to your ad targeting, you'll ensure that your ads are still producing quality results for your real estate business.