Update: Changes to Facebook Targeting and the Impact on Higher Ed Marketing

Carnegie Higher Ed Sep 20, 2017 Carnegie Higher Ed Persona The Visionary Frontrunner

UPDATE SINCE POSTING: By now, you have probably heard the news that Facebook had to temporarily suspend some of their targeting (see blog below). While this impact only lasted for a week, Carnegie’s Digital Team continues to be in touch with our Facebook representatives to keep the lines of communication open and monitor for any more changes that might be in the pipeline.

Facebook recently removed key targeting options, and this change is impacting higher ed marketing…right now.

If you’re curious (or panicking) about the impact Facebook’s targeting changes are having on your higher education marketing, read on. We’re uncovering the specifics of what targeting options have been removed, the hit to higher education marketing, and how Carnegie is on top of this for our clients!

The bad news: On September 14, Facebook quietly removed some of their key targeting options, including the ability for advertisers to target by school, field of study, and employer. As colleges and universities are ramping up their paid social media branding and inquiry campaigns, this is one of the last things any digital marketer in higher education wanted to hear—that Facebook has limited your ability to target prospective students!

The good news: If you are working with Carnegie, we have been whitelisted by Facebook for all future campaigns, so we can continue to use these targeting options!

Why Facebook has made this move:

Facebook’s decision to temporarily suspend these options came after facing negative criticism when ProPublica, an investigative reporting publication, discovered that the platform was allowing hate speech and discriminatory advertising. Facebook’s response was to remove any targeting options that are self-reporting categories while they look into this further.

“As people fill in their education or employer on their profile, we have found a small percentage of people who have entered offensive responses, in violation of our policies….And to help ensure that targeting is not used for discriminatory purposes, we are removing these self-reported targeting fields until we have the right processes in place to help prevent this issue.” — Facebook’s statement on their blog

How does this change impact higher education?

As savvy digital marketers, we know our target audiences are unique, and to get the most ROI from our budgets, we’re smart about how we’re finding and communicating to them on social media. ­Sure, we can choose to target by location, age, gender, or language, but we’re still going to be showing our ads to a significant number of people who will never inquire or enroll at our schools. You can compare this approach to trying to find a needle in a haystack.

How do we find just the right target audience then? By layering on options that fall within the “Detailed Targeting” section on Facebook. Also known as: the section containing the options Facebook took away!

Here’s what targeting looked like prior to September 14:

In addition to choosing locations and an age range for their target audience, this school was also able to only serve up the ad to students who were currently enrolled, or had some college experience, at their list of feeder schools. Instead of trying to sift through four million (!!!!) people’s Facebook feed to gain attention, they created just the right target audience of 110,000 people.

Here’s what advertisers are now limited to choose from within the “education” bucket:


Goodbye targeting specific schools—which is great for transfer students or anyone with feeder high schools. Goodbye selecting fields of study—which helps graduate schools find the most qualified students who have completed specific undergraduate programs. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.

For now, it’s unfortunately a waiting game. Facebook has stressed this is only a temporary suspension of these “fill-in-the-blank” school and employer fields, but that’s not reassuring for those who were getting ready to launch new ads.

Carnegie was quick to act

As an agency, we have a dedicated Facebook team, and within a day, we had all of our clients added to Facebook’s “whitelist”—a list that allows certain accounts to continue to access the full range of targeting parameters, as we’ve been deemed “safe” advertisers. Our clients’ campaigns didn’t skip a beat, and all new ads that we’ve launched continued to run just like last Thursday didn’t happen, with all targeting in place and just the right students seeing their marketing. This is one of the many benefits of working with an agency like Carnegie—we’re looking out for you!

Not a Carnegie Digital client? Contact us today.

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