Facebook Shutting Down Partner Categories: What These Changes Mean for Your Targeting Strategies

By Kass Botts | Production Associate at Hanapin Marketing

What Happened?

Facebook announced on Wednesday, March 28 that it would begin deprecating its Partner Categories in an effort to “improve people’s privacy on Facebook.” This is likely one of several ways Facebook is responding to its recent Cambridge Analytica Scandal.

While Partner Categories have typically had lackluster results overall for our accounts, there are certain advertisers who rely heavily on some of the targeting available from these data sources.

Let’s catch up on what is being changed, what the timeline looks like for these changes, and how you can respond if your accounts’ targeting strategies are affected.

What Are(/Were) Partner Categories?

Partner Categories were targeting options based on data provided by Facebook’s third-party partners such as Acxiom, Experian, and Oracle Data Cloud. They are(/were) available to advertisers targeting audiences in seven countries: the United States, Brazil, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Japan.

Here is an example of this detailed targeting in Ads Manager:


source: Facebook

Cambridge Analytica, a data mining and analytics firm, was not an Audience Data Provider partner with Facebook; however, it did collect and misuse data from millions of Facebook users. In what I assume is an attempt to mitigate the privacy issues highlighted by the recent scandal, Facebook will deprecate Partner Category targeting delivery over the course of the next six months.

Timeline for Changes

There will be two separate timelines for the changes according to geographic region.

For Audiences in the US, Brazil, Japan, and Australia

  • June 30: according to Facebook, this is the “last day for creating new or editing existing campaigns using non-EU Partner Categories; they will be allowed to run until September 30.”
  • October 1: Partner Categories will no longer be available as targeting options, and Facebook will stop delivering for these audiences.

For EU Audiences (UK, Germany, and France)

In compliance with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), effective May 25, 2018, there will be a condensed timeline for campaigns targeting the UK, Germany, and France.

  • May 10: You cannot create or edit campaigns built on targeting audiences in EU countries after this date; however, campaigns with these target audiences will be allowed to run until May 24.
  • May 25: Facebook will no longer deliver to Partner Categories built on audiences from the UK, Germany, and France, and these targeting options will no longer be available for use.

Changing Your Targeting Strategies In Response

These changes may or may not affect your current Facebook Ads targeting strategies. Take a look at specific examples of partner category targeting to get an idea of whether your campaign targeting strategies are based around targets like these:

  • People in the market for a sports/luxury car
  • Credit card holders
  • Likely investors
  • People who buy children’s products
  • Company size
  • Charitable donations
  • Credit union member
  • Corporate executives
  • Likely to move
  • Business travelers

Even if you aren’t building your campaigns on these targeting strategies, the following recommendations can be considered best practices for adjusting your strategies to the influx of user-privacy-centric changes that Facebook has made and will likely to continue to make in response to current events and regulations (such as the EU’s GDPR).

Develop True Personas Now


source: SEOPressor

Buyer personas are fictional representations of the ideal customer in your target. When fleshed out, they help you understand everything you need to know about your customers; this, in turn, allows you to target them more effectively. Developing personas helps you create highly relevant, targeted messaging. In terms of Facebook targeting specifically, it helps you identify all of the interests and behaviors you can utilize to build your ad sets. Your personas should be based on real data about your customers as well, not just what you think your ideal customer should look like. Use demographic and psychographic information from your buyer personas to reach the same audiences you were targeting with Partner Categories, albeit via different targeting methods.

Try New Things

This point is important as well: the audience you were trying to reach with Partner Category targeting is still out there. Your job is to figure out how best to reach them, and while that may involve using different targeting strategies than you were used to, Facebook does still have more than 1.8 billion monthly users. From now until October 1, test new targeting methods and gather data to determine what will and will not work when the time comes to implement new strategies in response to permanent changes. Facebook’s Split Testing feature is a great way to get data on various audience segments.

Maximize Performance in Current Campaigns While You Can

You can still create and edit campaigns built on Partner Categories until May 10 for the EU, and June 30 for the US, Brazil, Japan, and Australia. While I wouldn’t recommend creating anything new at this point, now is a good time to get as efficient as possible with the campaigns you have currently running. This will help your account performance as you test new targeting strategies up until the point when your campaigns will no longer deliver against Partner Category target audiences. You can get a leg up on your competitors who were not so proactive about responding to these changes over the summer of 2018.

Budget to Anticipate Uncertainty and Change

A quick note: it may be wise to keep your budgets flexible to adjust according to the results you see from platform changes. Budgeting out for a year for campaigns that rely upon platform stability may not be the best bet, as performance could dramatically shift as changes roll out.

Don’t Abandon Ship, but Test Channel Expansion

There is no reason for most (if any) advertisers to pull back on Facebook ads in response to changes. However, the news does provide a great opportunity to look at expansion into other channels that may be useful for the type of targeting capabilities that Facebook provides. For example, one of my clients who sees success with targeting that includes “corporate executive” interests and job titles on Facebook also sees success targeting these same personas in LinkedIn. Diversification, when spend is directed with a data-driven and strategic approach, is a great way to keep your overall digital marketing efforts in good health as the ever-changing platform landscapes shift.

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