Apple’s iOS Privacy & Tracking Update 1 Year on. How bad has it been for Facebook?

Over the last year you've probably heard a lot about Apple's iOS privacy updates but what actually happened and how did it affect Facebook and the Social Media Marketing Industry? We examine the fallout one year on...

Apple’s iOS Privacy & Tracking Update 1 Year on. How bad has it been for Facebook?

In April 2021 after much delay Apple finally launched its privacy update with iOS 14.5. The update introduced several changes for iOS users however, the major point of contention with the update came from the social media & marketing industries. Why? Well, the update introduced a new feature which required users to opt-in to tracking across third party apps on Apple’s mobile operating system. Meaning users would likely opt-out of having their behaviour & data tracked across multiple apps.

But what does that mean?

So, for example if a person is using a third-party app like Facebook on their Apple device & they then clicked on an ad which sent them to an external website, this would usually open the devices primary web browser (Safari or Chrome most likely). The Facebook app would feed the users data through to the web browser which could then be tracked by a Facebook pixel installed on the website.

So, why does that matter?

Well, this data is valuable for all kinds of reason. For Facebook it allows their algorithm to be improved to help advertisers achieve their lower funnel goals on an external website (purchases for example). For advertisers themselves it gave them effective data about the success of their ads as well as allowing them to implement remarketing audiences for increased goal conversions. A perfect example would be remarketing directly to people who have added products to their cart on the website but not purchased.
iOS 14.5 broke that connection between the Facebook app & browser on iOS by forcing the users to opt-in first, something they overwhelmingly did not do, with early indications it may have been as low as 6% in the US

In many major markets in the west, such as the UK & USA market penetration for Apple’s iPhones is as much as 50% & Facebook themselves have stated that as few as 1.5% of their users do not access the social media platform by mobile. All this meant Facebook was potentially losing the ability to track what nearly half of its users were doing after they clicked on an ad.

It caused chaos, false reporting, declining campaign performance & poorer overall results. Strategies that were proven to gain results for the past 5 years or more suddenly were not nearly as effective. There were compounding factors as well for the Ecommerce industry, as lockdowns ended in 2021 people suddenly found themselves no longer spending as much of their disposable income on online purchases.

Embracing API & Aggregation

One of the biggest changes in overall marketing strategy post update has been what is tracked & how. In the past simply putting some JavaScript in the form of a pixel was enough, now it is recommended, if not required, to ensure the Facebook API is connected to your site. This means use of standardised ecommerce platforms have become more advantageous that ever as platforms like Shopify & WooCommerce have API connectors inbuilt by Facebook themselves.

The API itself now supports what are called “aggregated events” basically these are a limited set of 8 different events that Apple & Facebook have agreed to share between them for when users have opted out of tracking. The events need to be ordered in priority of value, for example a purchase would be the highest, followed by an initiate checkout, then an add to cart & so on. However, users would only pass back the highest priority event they’ve triggered, meaning their behaviour is much less traceable. And Facebook would have to “Aggregate” all the events it received & combine them with the advertiser’s event priority to find other users who might be more likely to trigger the higher priority ones. All with a timely delay of up to 72 hours, it should be added.

How have Social Media Marketing Agencies Adapted?

While there has been change across the social media marketing world since last April, here’s a few things at Zen we’ve implemented to our social media marketing strategies since then.

While Brand Awareness itself as a goal has not been affected by the changes, Brand Awareness for the sake of prospecting for a sales funnel requires a fresh approach. Broader targeting with larger budgets at the Brand Awareness stage combined with goals that are more focused on user interest, such as link clicks & page views, have proven to be more effective than traditional reach-based objectives.

Use of Catalogues for Ecommerce advertisers has always been highly effective on Facebook ads for years now, however catalogue ads where uniquely insulated from the changes. As users would click through directly to product pages from Facebook, the popularity of products with certain types of users could be determined by the level of engagement before the user leaves the app. This has made catalogue ads essential to any ecommerce strategy.

So how bad is it for Facebook?

The truth about the new API & aggregated events is that they are a messy system & not nearly as useful to either marketers or Facebook as the old pixel-based events were. Facebook’s press releases might argue against that however their share price as of writing certainly indicates otherwise.
What is clear is that Facebook (with Instagram) remains the largest social media platform, by a long way. These changes have affected all social media companies & it is a testament to how successful Facebook had become in its advertising & targeting compared to its competition that it has suffered the most from Apple’s updates.

What remains to be seen is what will happen when Google’s Android operating system follows in Apple’s footsteps. Facebook may hope that as another data & advertising driven company Alphabet will be more understanding, but, then again, Silicon Valley is a looking-glass world.

For more information about how to improve your social marketing strategy and adapt to the changes, contact The Zen Agency now.