This new feature, likely renamed to clarify exactly what history you’re clearing, gives users the ability to view a summary of all apps and websites that send Facebook information about your browsing activity, and stop that information from being associated from your account if you want to.
While this is a step in the right direction for Facebook, it also leaves users (and advertisers) with a lot of questions.
For users, it's important to understand these options in order to best protect your data.
For marketers, it’s equally important to become familiar with this feature in order to ensure current and future ad targeting is optimized to reach the right people.
How does Off-Facebook Activity work?
We’ve all been there: You visit a website once, and immediately see your newsfeed flooded with advertisements from that brand.
Often times, this happens because that website is using Facebook Pixel or another tracking system that sends Facebook information that your device visited their website. Facebook’s system then tries to connect your device with a Facebook account. If it has a match, you can be shown ads for that brand.
Additionally, that advertiser can use that visit to target future ads as well (for example, if they’re trying to target everyone who visited a specific page in the last six months).
While that specific brand may not have any identifying data about you, some Facebook users are understandably concerned that Facebook has access to your browsing history to sell you products.
However, we should keep in mind that Facebook and other social media platforms exist primarily due to ad revenue, and deep targeting options like these are what keeps advertisers coming back.
So, Facebook created Off-Facebook Activity to find a middle-ground for both Facebook users and advertisers.
When users navigate to “Off-Facebook Activity” in their settings, they can view a list of all of the companies that have sent data to Facebook, like in the example above.
If there’s a particular company that the user no longer wants to be able to target ads to them based on browsing data, they can clear the information that website or app has connected to their Facebook account.
Additionally, users can even choose to disconnect all future off-Facebook activity from that specific website or app, meaning that company can’t use their browsing activity to target ads going forward.
Users can opt to do this for all off-Facebook activity in one sweep, or select specific apps or websites on a case by case basis.
However, there are some things to keep in mind:
Clearing history or disconnecting off-Facebook activity does not prevent that brand from advertising to you. Users will still see the same number of ads on Facebook regardless of how many advertisers they’ve disconnected. Advertisers can still target based on demographic information or activity that takes place on Facebook (visiting a company page, liked pages, demographic information, etc.). The only difference is that users who disconnect off-Facebook activity may see less relevant ads.
Disconnecting future activity also disconnects all past activity. When a user disconnects current activity, that website may still be able to collect browsing data for future visits. If you’d like to turn off all off-Facebook activity data, disconnecting future activity will prevent that company from targeted based on both previous and future sessions.
How will this impact advertisers?
As marketers, Facebook’s ability to target ads based on website activity has significantly helped re-engage users and move prospects down the funnel.
So, what will we do if our audience chooses to disconnect off-Facebook activity?
Before you panic, remember that this is a new feature, and we can’t be sure of how much of our audience will actually choose to disconnect until we dig into the data.
Advertisers running current Facebook campaigns should keep an eye on metrics as this feature is rolled out. If you’re noticing that your reach and impressions are going down on retargeting campaigns, it may be due to people disconnecting.
Still, there are steps advertisers can take to avoid being blocked in the first place.
First and most obvious, don’t spam people who visit your website with ads. Facebook offers website history on top of other more specific targeting capabilities — use them!
Along with that comes making sure that the ads you are showing are something users will find relevant. For example, if a user visits a page for your upcoming event, it’s unlikely serving up a BOFU ad for a core service offering will resonate with them. Make sure that when you are using retargeting, it adds to your users’ experience.
In addition to keeping these tactics in mind, advertisers should also consider the potential impact this change can have for retargeting campaigns, and possibly adjust goals accordingly for future campaigns.
Like it or not, this is the way the industry is headed, and such practices may become standardized across all social media platforms. As lawmakers are catching up to the fast pace of the digital advertising industry, we can expect that changes like these will span beyond just Facebook.
Marketers should find ways to adapt now and stay ahead of the curve.