Client FYI: How Facebook Changes are Impacting Pharma Marketers

August 22, 2018

This POV continually updates as relevant news hits.

Executive Summary:

With recent Facebook news, we want to assure clients that we continue to work directly with Facebook to stay on top of changes, and we will be keeping you apprised of how it affects you. Please read on for full details and background, and we will be adding updates to this as the news progresses.

2/11/19 Updates:

What are Custom Audiences (from a customer file)?

This is targeting based on an imported hashed customer list upon which the hashed data is then matched to users on Facebook.

In Summary:

Users who are being targeted because they are part of a “Custom Audience” (defined above) will see the name of the business that uploaded the user’s information to Facebook (Screenshots below).

CMI’s Recommendation:

  • There is a workaround here to ensure the agency or data provider supplying or launching the audience is changed to the advertiser name (ex. ABC Client vs. CMI Media). This workaround can be achieved by establishing an “on behalf of” (OBO) agreement between CMI’s ad account and your business, who we are advertising on behalf of (e.g.- ads will come from ABC Client vs. CMI Media)
  • We are still following up on the disclosure of any 3rd party data providers we work with as being highlighted in the “Why Am I Seeing This” section and will follow-up as soon as we receive more clarity

Next Steps:

We are reaching out to all affected clients, and are working to establish the aforementioned OBO connection.


Before (current)

After, updated as of Feb 27

8/22/18 Updates:

Facebook has announced a few changes to address critique that some of their ad practices could be seen as discriminatory. They have removed several options in targeting and will be requiring all US advertisers to complete an online educational training before placing ads. Additional detail can be seen on the Facebook blog.

7/13/18 Updates:

In further efforts for Facebook to protect user information, many updates have been made in the last few months to Facebook and Instagram’s APIs which many advertisers, including CMI, rely on for social analytics. Essentially, this API gives advertisers a window into what people are saying and sharing within the social platforms.

What we know:

  • On 3/31/18, Instagram restricted the volume of API calls from 5,000 to 200 per hour. This is consistent with the recent rate limiting in the Facebook Graph API.
  • On 4/4/18, Facebook announced the deprecation of several legacy APIs , including Instagram. These changes were made in an effort to further secure users’ privacy in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data breach.
  • Also on 4/4/18, Instagram accelerated the shift from the legacy Instagram API to the new Instagram Graph API. As a result, third-party vendors have lost the ability to attribute mentions to post authors using the legacy Instagram API.
  • Instagram is requiring all third parties switch to the new Graph API by December, impacting what can be crawled from Instagram.


  • The API updates to Instagram have limited the ability to source mentions by user/profile so advertisers will not be able to get insights at the individual level.
  • These updates will also prevent advertisers to research an audience less than 20,000 (this shouldn’t have a major impact as this size wouldn’t be seen as statistically significant anyways).
  • Insights into content leveraging a given hashtag on Instagram will be limited.
    • Advertisers will no longer be able to capture all content from a campaign hashtag that wasn’t posted from an existing tracked business user within the social listening/analytics tool. Consequently, we advise all brands leveraging influencers on Instagram to have their influencers change their Instagram accounts to verified business accounts so that they can continue to be tracked.

CMI will continue to stay close to these updates with all of our social suppliers and continue to deliver solutions and workarounds to ensure we are receiving meaningful data to help positively impact your business.

6/13/18 Updates:

Facebook is extending the timing for the removal of Partner Categories targeting. This means you will be able to create, edit and duplicate campaigns containing non-EU Partner Categories until August 15. Delivery to these audiences is still planned to end on October 1st.

Custom Audiences Update: Come July 2nd, Facebook is updating the work flow for uploading and sharing Custom Audiences, which includes:

  • Acceptance and subsequent reminders of Facebook’s Custom Audiences terms.
  • When uploading, advertisers must disclose the data origin for the Custom Audience and how and who it was collected from
  • Before one Business Manager can share an audience with another, a working relationship must be established between the two Business Managers

Moving forward, Facebook will provide more transparency to people about what information was used to reach them (email address or phone number) and the source of the information (if it was direct from an advertiser or with partners) via the “Why am I seeing this module?” on an ad. CMI/Compas continues to monitor changes at Facebook and will keep our clients apprised on what they need to know.

3/29/18 Updates:

Last week, we updated you on the background of a developing story surrounding Facebook data sharing and privacy concerns. This week, Facebook took further precautions to ensure user data privacy. Below are the steps being taken by Facebook, including a timeline:

Custom Audiences: Facebook temporarily removed reach estimates for Custom Audiences after researchers from their bug bounty program identified a potential flaw in the feature which could allow advertisers to discover targeting attributes of the people in the audiences they upload. Bug Bounty is Facebook Security program, providing recognition and compensation to security researchers practicing responsible disclosure.

On 3/28/18, Facebook announced that they will remove the ability to use Partner Categories, a targeting solution that enables third-party data providers to offer their targeting directly on Facebook. This includes usage of Acxiom, an third party data provider to Facebook, offering the ability to target verified HCPs through their third-party agreement and data share. Facebook shared the following timeline for this new update:

  • June 30 (U.S.): Last day for creating new or editing existing campaigns using Partner Categories; they will be allowed to run until September 30.
  • October 1 (U.S.): All other Partner Categories will no longer be available as targeting options on our platform and we will stop delivering against these audiences. You will be notified to update your targeting by this date.

The biggest implication for pharmaceutical marketers is the discontinuation of access to Acxiom (3rd Party) targets.

A detailed look at this developing story:

No doubt you’ve been seeing a lot of news about Facebook this week, including stories about use of the company’s collected data and changes to the algorithm. This POV will address the latest news and how it may impact pharma marketers.

What Happened?

Cambridge Analytica, a data-analytics and messaging company, is accused of deceitfully collecting millions of Facebook profiles and creating psychographic algorithms to influence the 2016 Presidential election. Personal Facebook account information was accessed through users who clicked on a quiz/survey (*app) and unknowingly gave research company, GSR, access to their friends’ Facebook profiles. Cambridge Analytica then purchased this data from GSR, at which point the unethical data mining practices were brought to light and Facebook made aware (in 2015), eventually asking Cambridge Analytica to delete the GSR data from their platform, which they apparently didn’t. Over the weekend Christopher Wylie, a data scientist who helped build out Cambridge Analytica’s psychographic algorithms, officially came forward and went into detail on how they used psychographic information to determine optimal messaging and placement in order to sway voters.

*Information was obtained by those who participated in a 3rd party app survey

Facebook’s Response

Facebook has now taken a hard stand and has blocked access for all the guilty parties, while Mark Zuckerberg took to Facebook to make a public statement. We reached out to our Facebook reps and they have emphasized the following:

  1. Even before these events came to light, Facebook has been taking steps in protecting its users’ data:
    a. In 2014, they updated their Graph API so that people can’t share detailed information about their friends with developers – access to this information was fully revoked by April 2015.
    b. As of 2015, all apps requesting detailed user information go through a review process, which requires developers to justify the data they’re looking to collect and how they’re going to use it – before they’re allowed to even ask people for it.
  2. They released the following statement: “We’re deeply upset that Kogan (Aleksandr Kogan, University of Cambridge Data Scientist at the forefront of the controversy, passing information to Cambridge Analytica) violated our policies by misleading people about how the data they shared with him would be used, and by improperly sharing that information with Cambridge Analytica and with Wylie. We will take whatever steps are required to see that the data in question is deleted once and for all — and take action against all offending parties. The suspension of Cambridge Analytica is just one step in what will be a sweeping investigation into how data was not only used by this organization, but every party involved in this case. But we know we can do more. We take the privacy of people’s data and the integrity of our platform very seriously, and we will make further changes to our product, policies and processes to help prevent this type of abuse in the future.”

On the afternoon of March 23, 2018, Facebook provided an additional update to agency partners:

“We know we need to do more, and we are making further changes to our product, policies and processes. We’re going to set a higher standard for how developers build on Facebook, and what people should expect from them and, most importantly, from us,” the memo stated. You can see the memo in full here.

Additional Important Background

It’s worth noting that in addition to Facebook’s response to this situation, we have already seen Facebook take strides in other areas when it comes to advertising transparency to users on the platform. Beginning earlier this year, Facebook revoked the privilege for advertisers to promote in the Right Rail without having a Facebook page/profile, so users can know where the ads are coming from. Facebook is currently testing a new section on a brand page where users can see all ads stemming from the page, even if they do not fall into the ad’s intended target audience. This is set to roll out in the U.S. this summer, in advance of the mid-term elections.

All of this is occurring at the same time Facebook is riding out algorithm changes that aimed to prioritize posts and content generated by personal connections (friends and family as opposed to businesses, an update CMI/Compas shared earlier this year here and in The Scoop), to provide a better user experience. This change impacts a business’ organic reach, meaning this content will be de-prioritized from an organic standpoint, and there is and will continue to be an even greater need to rely on advertising/paid social to stay top of mind and in front of your target audience.

While Facebook is making this change knowing time spent and engagements will probably decrease, the belief that the quality of the time spent on the site would be more valuable, putting its users first.

What this Means for Pharma Marketers

At CMI/Compas we manage our clients’ campaigns with a central focus on audience behavior and preferences and includes measurement at every step of the way, enabling us to be agile and pivot when needed. Because of this, we strive to deliver successful solutions when/if updates occur with suppliers, such as this. In addition, we are committed to always collect and use data in an ethical and fully transparent way.

CMI/Compas continues to stand behind Facebook as a valuable strategic supplier. Their dedicated Facebook Health team is composed of pharmaceutical and healthcare specialists, many of whom dedicated their entire careers to the pharmaceutical industry. Our partners at Facebook understand the importance of staying compliant and ensuring every CMI/Compas client initiative stays within strict pharma guidelines.

CMI/Compas will continue to closely follow this situation and keep everyone informed as Facebook continues to refine its advertiser transparency and data privacy policies.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to our CMI/Compas Drive team with any questions or concerns.