What the Facebook Advertising Scandal Means for Hotels and Wedding Venues

Facebook has attracted lots of unwanted attention lately with the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Here’s what it means for hotel and wedding venue marketing.

You don’t have to follow tech news closely to have heard about the Facebook data scandal that’s dominated headlines over the last few weeks. It’s an intriguing tale that ties together politics, money, and a product used by billions of people. There’s a lot of confusion around it, though, and Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional testimony didn’t seem to answer many of the hard questions.

Here, we outline how the scandal started, how it will affect Facebook ad targeting in the future, and what this means for those in the business of marketing hotels and wedding venues who want to reach prospective guests and clients with the platform.

About Cambridge Analytica…

There’s a misconception that Cambridge Analytica was a Facebook advertiser, and that’s how they acquired users’ personal information. That’s not how it happened – when you advertise on Facebook, you’re not able to see who, specifically, you’re reaching. Instead, in 2013, Cambridge Analytica worked with a developer who built a personality quiz app on top of Facebook’s platform, and it was installed by about 300,000 people. At the time, Facebook let app developers collect not only the personal information of people who used the app, but that of their friends, too. So, Cambridge Analytica ended up with rich datasets for tens of millions of Facebook users – enough to build psychographical profiles of them that would indicate what messaging would be likely to sway them politically. Then, they ran ads to those people based on that information.

What Facebook Is Doing About It

Facebook took steps to address what went wrong with Cambridge Analytica (like being less liberal about developer access to data, using clearer messaging so people know about options to protect their data, hiring more people for their security team, etc.) and will continue to do so. But the scandal also brought to light a related issue: Facebook’s wide suite of ad targeting options. The merits of this system have been dissected in the tech press, though the basic premise – targeting people by what they share on Facebook – is highly unlikely to disappear anytime soon. It’s a little-known fact, though, that Facebook doesn’t only segment their audience for advertisers based on what people share on Facebook; they also work with third-party data providers who feed Facebook information about people’s lives off Facebook, making it easier for advertisers to reach them in different ways. Facebook announced in March that this practice will stop, and that Partner Categories, as this data was referred to, will end at some point later this year.

Why Hotels and Wedding Venue Marketers Don’t Have to Worry

Reports indicate that all the bad press hasn’t scared off many of Facebook’s users. In all likelihood, hotel and wedding venue marketers with campaigns targeting specific types of travelers in specific areas, those who have visited a specific page of your website but haven’t converted, or recently engaged couples by age and location have nothing to worry about – that sort of targeting doesn’t approach the level of sophistication worthy of scrutiny. Plus, user backlash has been against a company that may have inappropriately acquired and used data (Cambridge Analytica) and the platform itself (Facebook) – not the other five-plus-million advertisers using the service. The bottom line: Targeted advertising on Facebook will continue to evolve, but it isn’t going anywhere.

Sample Ways Hotels and Wedding Venues Can Use Facebook’s Targeted Ad Platform

Yes, we have skin in this game, with our offering that builds campaigns targeting recently engaged couples. Facebook’s system allows you to create ads to reach brides, grooms, or both, who are newly engaged (within the last three months), who are a certain age, and who live in a specific area (or one of several areas). You can even target by income, though we don’t recommend this, since many engaged couples get help paying for their wedding from their parents. You’ll have a relevant, receptive audience, and an ad in the carousel format, in which people can swipe through a selection of photos, that can drive people to your website so they book a site visit. It doesn’t take many site visit inquiries to make the ad spend well worth it. Another popular approach for both hotels and wedding venues is to run a re-marketing campaign, enticing users to come back to your “weddings” or booking page on your website with an ad directly in their Facebook feeds. Hotel marketers might also be interested in this post highlighting some of the other creative ways you could target guests.

What You Should Do Now

If you’re interested in reaching people through Facebook ads, you have a couple of options: You could go to facebook.com/ads and set up a Facebook ad account, set up a campaign (how much you want to spend, how long you want it to run, etc.), build an audience (who you want to see your ad), and create an ad (including the copy, images, and placement within Facebook’s properties.) Or, if you have too much on your plate at the moment, you could work with a hospitality marketing agency like us, and we’ll take care of it for you. One of our recent clients – a wedding venue in New Jersey – saw a 19x return on their first month’s $500 ad spend.

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