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Facebook Advertising – What Consumers Should Know


When news of the ‘data leak’ Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal hit, I wasn’t the least bit surprised (and also amused that the media dubbed the incident a data leak – it was not a leak, IMO).

A third party used a very powerful advertising tool to sway consumers. Sounds a lot like what so many advertisers do everyday. I’m not convinced that Facebook did anything more than offer a service that was used by some very unethical marketers. As a digital marketing consultant myself, that’s the problem I have with this situation.

So, if marketers aren’t going to be ethical, then consumers have to be smarter. They need to know how marketers target them and they need to be aware that the ads showing up on your newsfeeds and browsers are not there by accident. They are there because the consumer left breadcrumbs on the Internet that effectively tells marketers all about you… and these predictions are surprisingly accurate.

Now I know there’s been a bit of an exodus on Facebook recently, but let me be clear: Deleting your Facebook account will not protect you from having your data used by marketers (I’m looking at you, Google). Whenever you use the Internet, use your cell phone or tablet, you are being tracked. Tiny bits of information are being sent to a data collection location. This information is then used to strategically target you with advertising while you surf the Internet or use your favourite app. Don’t kid yourself. Deleting one account or app isn’t going to make you anonymous on the Internet.

Since I do most of my digital marketing work on Facebook, I thought I’d take the opportunity to show you what setting up an advertising campaign on Facebook looks like so you can see just how specific you can be targeted by marketers.

So, let’s jump right in:





The above screen shot is taken from a page I administer that is heavy on the food puns. These are the details about this specific post. Virtually, every post on a Facebook page has these details available to page administrators only. Visitors to a page do not see these details. Seems pretty innocuous, right? Then I push that blue button labelled “Boost Post” and the magic really happens.



The section I’d like to concentrate on is under Audience on the left hand side of the above image. Here, marketers can target specific people through a variety of socioeconomic and psychometric indicators. There are three options under Audience including: People chosen through targeting (not necessarily fans of the page), people who already like your page, and people who like your page AND their friends. For the purpose of this post, we’re going to choose the first option.



A new window pops up that let’s us choose gender and age demographics. Next we get to choose location. I wanted to see if I could target a specific neighbourhood in Toronto:




Yes, you can target specific addresses, but what if I only wanted to target people in that address that will engage with  a post about pizza and puns? For that we look at Detailed Targeting.



Detailed targeting has already been pre-populated above with keywords drawn from my page. I want to make my potential audience size a bit more specific though. I want to target people who are interested in both pizza and puns. Before we do that though, check out how many people I could potentially reach that are interested in just Food and drink (image below). Yes, that’s over a billion people.



So, let’s see how many people have expressed an interest or liked a page related to pizza.

About 250 million people can be targeted on Facebook, but remember, I just want to target those people in and around Queen Street West in Toronto. I also want to target people who like puns, so let’s add that variable into the equation.



So, we have 1.5 million people interested in puns. Now that I have set my criteria, Facebook works its magic and I’m shown a potential audience size: 590,000 people.


With just a few minutes and a click of a few buttons, I can now reach up to half a million people in and around Queen Street West in Toronto. Facebook doesn’t stop there though. You can further define your audience by narrowing your audience. Perhaps I only want to get my punny pizza message out to people of a certain political persuasion. By browsing demographics, I’ve found my last variable.


Now I can target only those people who expressed an interest in pizza AND puns AND by their political leanings and activity. It’s that simple. Set up a page. Get some followers. Spend $25 dollars and potentially reach up to 500,000 people. That’s how powerful it is. And that’s also why consumers need to understand how Facebook advertising works. Honestly, I don’t know if I’ll get reprimanded by Facebook for sharing this information. Anyone with a page and a small number of followers can see this information, as far as I know. The point is, that as consumers we must be aware that every click of the mouse on Facebook (or online for that matter) logs data somewhere… and that data is devoured by advertisers and marketers. They want to sell you something and knowing more about you means they can target you in a way that may convince you to buy what they are selling.

And yes, friends, that’s (in part) how Russia was able to sway an election in another country. It’s as simple as creating a post with a meme or a link to any article in the world and then using Facebook’s incredibly powerful ad tools to get their message out and effectively manipulate the masses.

This doesn’t mean that you have to stop using the Internet or even Facebook for that matter. It just means that we all need to educate ourselves more thoroughly on how digital marketers get their messages out – AND we need to start holding marketers accountable for their unethical practices.

M. xo

P.S. No, leaving Facebook and using only Instagram will not solve the problem of data tracking. Instagram is owned by Facebook. They have been integrated to offer advertisers the option to get their message out to both platforms simultaneously.

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