How Apple’s iOS update will affect your Facebook ads

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How Apple’s iOS update will affect your Facebook ads and how small business owners can handle the changes


It’s been described as #cookiegate, a ‘showdown’ between tech giants Apple and Facebook, and a game-changer for Facebook advertising.


So, it’s understandable that Apple’s latest update – iOS 14.5 – has caused uncertainty among small business owners and retailers, who tend to rely heavily on social media advertising to drive sales.


So, what exactly is it? And what does it mean for small business?


A new era for internet tracking


Put simply, the latest update allows iOS users (iPhone users) to choose which apps can – and can’t – track their internet history.


Since April, whenever iPhone users have opened an app on their mobile, they may have received a prompt asking whether they’re happy for the app to keep tracking their data.


This is significant for retailers because tracking is what makes digital advertising so powerful, says Karyn Parkinson of Unstoppable Ecommerce.


“Social media apps use tracking to build detailed profiles of their users, so advertisers can show them ads that are most likely of interest to them.


“It also allows advertisers to track how users interact with ads and the actions they take after seeing an ad, such as adding to cart or making a purchase.”

Social media apps use tracking to build detailed profiles of their users, so advertisers can show them ads that are most likely of interest to them.

- Karyn Parkinson of Unstoppable Ecommerce

For users, this means ads will be less personalised, which Erin Morris of Young Folks Digital likens to “when someone uses your Spotify account and messes with the algorithm, and all of a sudden you’re listening to music that is not a vibe!”


And for businesses using Facebook ads? “Put simply, as more people opt out of tracking on iOS 14 devices, the size of your customer audiences will reduce,” says Morris. And this will limit advertisers’ ability to target the right audiences with the right ads at the right time.


Why is Apple making the change?


“It’s a case of the big platforms trying to get the balance right, between targeting and privacy,” explains James Lawrence, co-founder of Rocket Agency. “And the reason they’re doing it is because they don’t want governments and regulation to come in over the top and tell them what they can and can’t do.”


It's a case of the big platforms trying to get the balance right, between targeting and privacy.

- James Lawrence, co-founder of Rocket Agency

In fact, it’s likely that privacy and tracking capabilities will become even more restricted. Apple has already announced that its next update – iOS 15 – will reduce email tracking, which means businesses will no longer have visibility over open rates or the location of subscribers.


Meanwhile, Google is also set to withdraw cookie-based targeting from 2022.


How will it affect your business?


The iOS 14.5 changes started coming into effect in Australia in April. “Some Australian businesses will notice a massive impact in their Facebook ad performance. Others will not,” says Lawrence, explaining that the degree to which advertisers are affected will depend on which apps and websites Facebook loses the most visibility over.


“If you are a retailer who has historically used Facebook ads as an important part of your marketing mix, it’s important to assess whether you’re starting to get decreased performance from your campaigns.”


What can small businesses do to mitigate the changes?


The positive news is that everyone is in the same boat, explains Lawrence. “And the reality is that the eyeballs are still there. People are still on Facebook, they’re still on Instagram. It’s a case of dealing with the targeting capabilities we have and doing the best you possibly can.”

Here are some strategies to follow:


Comply with suggested changes


“Many platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, have brought in new measures in response to the changes,” says Parkinson. For example, they require brands to verify their domain. “Be sure to log in to your social media ad accounts and follow any prompts to be compliant with new measures.”


Diversify your marketing mix


As tech giants like Apple, Facebook and Google change the way they operate, it’s more important than ever to ensure your business’s success – whether that’s traffic or sales – isn’t overly reliant on any single platform.


“As a small business, you need to have as much control as you possibly can,” says Lawrence. “And for me that’s about a website that has diversified traffic coming into it. You should be looking at Google search, remarketing and retargeting and an appropriate social strategy. You’ll also want to build up a really high-quality database of all the people you come in contact with, with their email address, phone number and address, if relevant.” That way you can market to them directly, without relying on third parties like Facebook.


Lean in to content marketing


One way to diversify your marketing approach is to consider content marketing, says Morris. “Right now, at Young Folks, we’re seeing more success than ever with content marketing and digital advertising. This is because we’re using digital advertising to amplify already successful content marketing activity – rather than relying on digital advertising to do the heavy lifting alone.”


She adds that a solid SEO strategy, adding UTM tracking to links, and revamping your email approach are other tactics worth considering.


Create engaging content


“Social media is by no means dead, it’s just changing,” says Parkinson. “Rather than focusing on all the changes, keep posting content your audience will love and develop meaningful conversations with them.”

The stuff that cuts through is the content that actually gives value to the recipient.

- James Lawrence, co-founder of Rocket Agency

Lawrence agrees, adding that the key is to deliver value. “As consumers we are bombarded with messaging and we’re time-poor. The stuff that cuts through is the content that actually gives value to the recipient.”


Anna Saunders is the co-founder of PRIMER and content marketing agency studio PRIMER. She is a former newspaper and magazine journalist.

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