It has been a roller coaster year for advertisers on the world’s largest social network.
Data and privacy controversies rocked Facebook in 2018, which saw the social network respond with new policies on targeting and transparency that directly impacted users and advertisers.
2018 wasn’t all gloom, however: we saw major expansions of new transparency & security features and ad products like Stories ads, attribution tools, and more that have expanded the reach and full-funnel capabilities of advertisers.
Here’s a look back at twelve of the big changes that impacted Facebook advertisers in 2018.
1. Facebook Changes Newsfeed Algorithm Following Data Disaster
In late 2017 it was revealed that Facebook user data was used by third-parties to influence the 2016 election.
Following months of public outcry, proceedings on Capitol Hill, and an endless spawn of Zuckerberg memes, Facebook responded by announcing a revamp of its Newsfeed organic ranking algorithm — to place stronger emphasis on user content over publisher content.
This impacted advertisers in several big ways by:
- Limiting content from businesses.
- Increasing CPMs.
- Forcing brands to focus on more organic content.
- Killing the efficacy of “engagement-baiting.”
“This year brands will have to work harder than ever to prove their relevancy through engaging content. We’ll likely start to see a “less is more” approach from brands, as they’ll want to invest more time and energy into providing quality over quantity of content.”
2. Carousel Ads: The First Ads For Stories
While Facebook was facing a difficult time early in the year, Instagram saw the release of many new advertising products that would monetize the platform more than ever.
Instagram Carousel Ads began rolling out in February, bringing valuable new ad inventory to the fastest growing content medium: Stories.
What are Carousel Ads for Instagram Stories?
Carousel Ads for Instagram Stories behave the same way as other Stories content, meaning you can tap through, swipe back and forth or pause the content whenever you’d like.
Now with two additional pieces of media, advertisers can add depth to their storytelling in the same way the community does today.
3. Facebook Closes & Then Re-opens Messenger Apps & Bots
Facebook placed all Messenger applications under review as the Cambridge Analytica crisis continued to unfold.
This caused advertisers who used Messenger bots to (briefly) panic, and temporarily paused Messenger launches for brands and businesses not already on the platform.
“While this is a short-term loss for companies, the long-term desired effect for Facebook is a more secure platform,” explains Sarah Sanchez, Manager of Performance Social at CPC Strategy.
“I believe the opportunity for chatbots and other apps will be reopened once they’re deemed in-compliance with Facebook’s updated policy standards. In light of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, advertisers, companies, and individuals should all welcome a more secure platform where data won’t be traded freely.”
-Sarah Sanchez, Manager of Performance Social at CPC Strategy
4. Facebook Releases Tabs for Canvas Ads & Categories for Dynamic Ads
Facebook debuted two major ad products for retailers in May: Tabs for Canvas Ads and Categories for Dynamic Ads.
Tabs for Canvas with Collection
Tabs for Canvas with Collection improve on the full-screen experience of the Canvas ad unit by adding tabs that create a personalized catalog for users.
The tabs will feature categories of products that are most likely to interest potential customers, based on their Facebook history.
For example, if a Facebook user has been browsing hiking gear, then your Canvas collection might display hiking shoes as one of the first tabs.
“It’s a more branded play on collection ads. I imagine it’ll be a good test for clients that are launching new collections and products or have a brand awareness budget.”
-Sarah Sanchez, Manager, Performance Social at CPC Strategy
Categories for Dynamic Ads
Categories for dynamic ads can display multiple items in a single ad unit pulled from categories within your product feed.
According to Facebook, Categories for Dynamic Ads allow you to “show people different types of items you sell in a single ad unit. Rather than showing individual items, you can segment the items in your ads by specific categories.”
Not only does this type of ad show more items in an interactive carousel, but it also helps create a theme and reinforce your brand’s lifestyle imagery.
“With dynamic products sets and Categories, we are able to bring the shopping experience to Facebook users and give them a chance to interact with multiple products — all without leaving their Facebook feed.”
-Gavin Magoon, Retail Search Manager, CPC Strategy
5. Instagram Launches Payments for Shopping
Until this year, the only way for customers to shop from the platform had been through “Shoppable Instagram,” a shop gallery, which is a parallel site linked in the Instagram bio section.
With Shopping, Instagram opened up the lower funnel, enabling brands to sell their products directly to followers.
“Of all the social channels, traffic to ecommerce stores from Instagram stay longest onsite, making them the most likely to convert from followers into customers,” explains Ronit Epstein, Marketing Communications Manager at Yotpo.
“Moreover, Instagram users are highly likely to make purchasing decisions based on their experiences on the platform.”
6. Closure of Partner Categories & New Terms for Custom Audiences
Facebook announced in June that they were ending Partner Categories, severely limiting audience targeting based on third-party data.
Facebook also began requiring advertisers to upload information that specifies where the audience information came from.
“These changes add an additional step to audience production,” says Jenny Stiles, Social Marketing Coordinator at CPC Strategy.
“Uploading emails, for example, will now have to be completed manually by advertisers or the client.”
New Requirements for Audience Sharing
In addition to requiring the origin of custom audience data, Facebook also requires advertisers to clarify their audience-sharing permissions with other parties.
Facebook also began displaying more reminders to advertisers about their responsibility to protect the privacy of their audiences.
All users associated with a Facebook ad account have to accept the privacy terms of service.
7. Instagram Shopping Expands to Stories
Instagram released a seamless shopping feature for Stories — the fastest growing segment on the platform that now doubles Snapchat in terms of active users.
Shopping for Stories presented an enormous opportunity for brands to leverage their content to drive lower funnel purchases on Instagram. Previously, this was very difficult to do because of link restrictions.
Stories — images and videos that act as media-rich status updates — are starting to overtake the regular Newsfeed.
The number of users using Stories has increased to 400m — from 250m only a year ago.
Originating with Snapchat, the Stories are now pivotal for the growth of Instagram, Facebook, and even WhatsApp.
“With one billion monthly active users, and the expectation that Stories will eventually overtake the newsfeed in popularity, shopping directly from Instagram Stories could drive a significant amount of traffic to retailers that get it right.”
-Paul Fairbrother, Facebook Ad Specialist at AdEspresso
8. Stories Ads Come to Facebook
Piggybacking off the success of Instagram Stories, Facebook launched its own Stories format in September.
Instagram Stories have proven hugely successful as native, full-screen creative that fits seamlessly into users’ natural browsing activities.
A new ad format doesn’t mean starting from scratch, however; all of Facebook’s Ads Manager measurement and targeting capabilities are also available for Stories ads.
Stories ads also support the same objectives as their Instagram counterparts, including reach, brand awareness, views, app installs, conversions, traffic, and lead generation — so your brand can consistently track your KPIs.
9. Facebook Canvas Ads Become Instant Experience Ads
Facebook rebranded its signature Canvas ads to Instant Experience, taking the immersive mobile shopping experience to a new level.
More than just product rename, Instant Experiences introduce new features and functionality that marks a big improvement over their Canvas predecessor.
Here’s a quick look at Facebook’s Instant Experience ads and what advantages they bring to your mobile marketing initiatives.
We’re excited for Instant Experiences because mobile shoppers are drawn to experiences that are media-rich, easy to navigate, and optimized for speed.
-Brent Villiott, Social Marketing Manager at CPC Strategy
Instant Experiences are a new and improved version of Facebook’s Canvas ads, which offer an immersive, full-screen mobile experience for a business to showcase its products and tell its brand story in a visually compelling way.
Instant Experiences are:
- Optimized for mobile devices.
- Load almost instantly.
- Offer a media-rich experience to capture the attention of your target audience.
10. New Info & Ads Section Let’s You See Competitor Ads
Facebook added a new “Info & Ads” section that enables anyone to view all of the active ads on a Facebook page—meaning you can now see what your competitors’ Facebook ads.
This update reflects the wider trend toward transparency around advertisements following last year’s data controversies. Facebook first outlined these efforts in an official announcement late last year.
“The ability to presumably view all of your competitor’s ads has enormous implications — and may help advertisers better audit their competitors’ creative.”
-Sarah Sanchez, Manager, Performance Social, CPC Strategy
11. Facebook Pixel Moves to First-party Cookies
Facebook is made an important update to its tracking Pixel this October that offered businesses a first-party cookie option.
The first-party cookie option for the Pixel is a workaround against “intelligent tracking prevention” software that blocks third-party cookies.
Some services and web browsers (like Safari) have moved to disable third-party cookie tracking, which can complicate advertisers’ ability to track and collect data around everything from user behavior to conversions.
12. Facebook Releases Attribution: A Tool To Track Cross-channel Conversions
Facebook released the Facebook Attribution tool to help advertisers track engagement with Facebook ads.
The tool uses a data-driven “people-based” model that can track a user’s interactions with Facebook ads across multiple devices and Facebook-owned channels (Instagram, Facebook’s Audience Network, and Messenger) as well as off-Facebook sources.
It follows similar steps by both Google and Amazon, both of which have released advertising attribution measurement tools of their own.
“This tool is great news for all of us advertisers; it provides insights into how your audience is engaging and converting both from both a cross-device and cross-channel view. If you’ve ever asked yourself whether your Facebook ads are really working, this tool will help answer that.”
-Casey Edwards, Senior Social Marketing Strategist at CPC Strategy
What to Expect From Facebook in 2019
While Facebook has somewhat weathered the storm from a year defined by data and PR crises, the social network continues to face major security lapses that will bring into question privacy and content policies that could impact advertisers in 2019.
Advertisers can also expect more ad developments around video placements, Facebook Watch, the Stories format, and more.
For a full forecast, you can check out our 2019 Facebook predictions from social advertising experts.