Facebook and Instagram’s Latest Targeting Restrictions

Allison Seib Aug 04, 2021 Allison Seib Senior Social Media Specialist Persona The Compassionate and Creative Artisan

How Facebook and Instagram’s Latest Audience Targeting Restrictions Will Impact Social Media Advertising and Actions Digital Marketers Can Take

A major advertising policy change that will affect many digital marketers, especially in the higher education space, is coming to Facebook and Instagram. Beginning August 23, Facebook and Instagram will restrict audience targeting directed at users under the age of 18 in the US to three criteria: age, gender, and location. According to Facebook’s news center, this change was made to give young people a safer, more private experience on both platforms.

This means digital advertisers will no longer be able to reach users within this segment using detailed targeting (demographics, interests, and behaviors), custom audiences, lists, look-alikes, or Retargeting. Facebook outlines a full list of restrictions within its Help Center article about this upcoming change. Note: These restrictions apply to boosted organic content as well.

Facebook has confirmed these changes will affect digital marketers globally, and despite higher education’s inherent interest to safely advertise to minors, no industries will receive an exemption to this new policy.

What does this change mean for digital marketers in higher education?

For digital marketers who promote graduate- and professional-level programs, this latest advertising policy will have little to no effect on audience targeting.

Unfortunately, this change will affect digital marketers who primarily use Facebook and Instagram ads to reach prospective students under 18 for undergraduate admissions.

How? While the message and visuals of your ads are very important, if you’re not reaching just the right target audience, your message will fall flat. Audience targeting is key to solid social media ad performance.

But without the ability to target via interest (e.g., STEM, athletics, volunteering), behaviors (such as early technology adopters), or demographics (excluding those already in college)—as well as custom targeting (think SAT/ACT lists, prospect lists, Retargeting lists, and look-alikes)—reaching users who need to see your message becomes all the more challenging.

Instead of reaching users ages 16-18 who are interested in pursuing a degree in Social Work, getting involved in community service, and attending diversity lectures, now you’ll be able to reach men and women, ages 16-18, who live in Boston. Pretty nondescript and broad, right?

What options do digital marketers have to reach users under age 18?

While we continue to look for additional solutions, digital marketers still have quite a few options to reach users within this segment. Options for consideration include:

  1. When continuing to create campaigns geared to users under 18 on Facebook and Instagram, consider:
    • Using data from previous applicants and admits to identify specific locations for audience targeting, such as ZIP Codes or cities that feeder high schools are in.
    • Incorporating aspects of interests, demographic, or behavioral criteria into specific ad messaging (while remembering to be inclusive, of course).
    • Linking your ads to landing pages with program-specific content, RFI forms, or CTAs directly associated with ad messaging.
    • Adding hashtags into Instagram ads to reach users who search for content and new accounts to follow.
    • Using campaign objectives that align with your end goal so Facebook Ads Manager can use its machine learning to optimize toward the specific users you want to reach.
    • Note: If you’re currently running a campaign that targets users under 18 using detailed or custom targeting, your campaign will not be automatically paused or end on August 23. Instead, Facebook will allow your ads to continue running but will discontinue serving those ads to users within the under-18 segment.
  2. For search or prospect lists, consider focusing more on IP Targeting, which allows an advertiser to reach not only the prospective student but any other decision-makers in the household as well. A recent Carnegie survey indicated that 96% of parents are involved in their child’s discovery and exploration of colleges, making them a vital influencer. First-party lists of inquiries, applicants, and accepted students can also be utilized via Google Customer Match to reach these audiences on YouTube, Gmail, and Display—but note that any purchased third-party lists will not comply with Google’s policies, and accounts must meet Google’s historical spend minimums in order to utilize Customer Match lists.
  3. Turn to other social media platforms to target prospective undergraduate students, such as Snapchat and TikTok, where more detailed targeting parameters and custom list targeting are still available.
  4. While Retargeting to users under 18 will no longer be an option via Facebook and Instagram, it’s still a viable option on other social media platforms as well as on YouTube and via banner advertising across the web. And if you aren’t already incorporating a parent-specific Retargeting strategy into your overall digital marketing plans, this may be a great time to consider pivoting your Facebook and Instagram Retargeting campaigns to speak more specifically to parents and key stakeholders within the household.
  5. In terms of organic content, these tactics may also help you reach your target audience:
    • Rely on influencer marketing by tapping into current students with large followings. Asking students to help share your institution’s story, give a positive testimonial, or share insights into academics and student life fosters an authenticity that ads sometimes lack.
    • Continue posting high-quality, engaging content on a regular basis to create the expectation that there’s always something new to discover about your institution.
    • Engage with followers in comments and through content that encourages conversation, engagement, and sharing, which helps increase your reach.
    • Incorporate more storytelling into your organic content, such as increasing student spotlights, to showcase the type of students who attend your institution and what they can accomplish during their college career.

Learn more about social media advertising with Carnegie

In short, Facebook and Instagram’s new restrictions on audience targeting create a new challenge that digital marketers—especially those in higher education—will need to face head-on. We’re confident that by incorporating these tried-and-true methods into your strategy, digital marketers will successfully adapt and continue to reach quality prospective students.

Do you need help with your institution’s social media marketing strategy? Contact us today!

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