This article, written by Michelle Fox is from the May 2021 edition of Nink, the monthly newsletter of Novelists, Inc.  (NINC). Nink, which is packed each month with informative articles for career novelists, is a benefit of NINC membership. 

There’s a lot of noise about Facebook this year. Are authors losing one of their best advertising outlets? Do ads still work? What is IOS14? Should we delete our profiles and go somewhere else? Or, is there more to the story?

The backstory
Facebook is under fire from all sides. They’re mired in politics and anti-trust lawsuits, and are embroiled in a dispute with Apple over how consumer data is used.

Why is this happening now? Is it because “the public” has “woken up” and “demanded” privacy? No. That’s just the PR spin corporations use to make themselves look good and consumers feel like they have power.

This conflict is actually the convergence of several changes happening in technology, society, and commerce. The big tech giants have entered a new phase of competition, where their business interests overlap, creating friction and triggering turf wars.

As billionaire Kevin Plank says, data is the new oil, and in this next phase of the Data Revolution we'll see increasing competition for who controls what data as more human activity and commerce goes digital.

If you think Apple truly cares about privacy, consider this: 20 percent of their profits last year came from a payoff from Google to make Google the default search engine on Apple devices.

Apple cared so much about consumer privacy … they sold it to Google and let Google track users to their heart’s content. This deal is now the subject of legal scrutiny.

(Three guesses on the one thing Facebook didn’t pay for…)

Furthermore, Apple doesn’t apply any of their new limits on user tracking to their own network. They have no issue tracking their users.

Let’s discard this notion that Apple is somehow a noble knight who has come to save us from the Big Bad Tech Wolf. The reality is they want to monetize their data and their user base just as much as Facebook or Google do.

From this background emerges the first big turf war to hit authors in 2021: the IOS14 update. This is Facebook’s attempt to meet Apple’s new standards for consumer tracking and privacy, and authors using Facebook ads in 2021 will need to make some adjustments. Here’s the actual playbook for the little guy trying to run a publishing empire.

Verification is key
Verification is Facebook’s favorite word in 2021. They want to know who they are working with, and to do that, they now require two-factor authentication on accounts running ads. Here are their instructions on how to set it up.

Facebook also wants additional levels of verification. All authors who use Facebook’s Business Manager will need to verify their domain. Some authors may also have to verify their business, and personal identity, too.

The problem for authors is that we set up LLCs or S Corporations as small presses and then publish, promote, and operate publicly as our author name, which doesn’t match our legal or business names. This creates a disconnect between website, Facebook page, profile, and business documents that complicate business and identity verification.

Facebook also won’t tell you what verification they want, but has no qualms about shutting down or freezing accounts without notice. If you’re locked out of your account or can’t run ads or find your page access revoked, set up two-step authentication and domain verification. Contact chat support if that doesn’t restore access.

Start with the basics now: two-factor authentication and domain verification. Long term, reconcile names between your profile and pages and business documents and be ready to verify your business if necessary. I don’t recommend volunteering for business verification because Facebook is picky about the documents, but it’s time to be prepared.

Pixel changes
The pixel (a piece of tracking code advertisers use and the main bone of contention with Apple) will see new limits on functionality with the IOS14 update. While most authors don’t use the pixel, that doesn’t necessarily insulate us because all the changes are being rolled out globally.

If you do rely on the pixel in your ad strategy, you’ll have to recalibrate and adjust. Workarounds are already emerging, and it looks like Facebook will soon have them in place.

However, even with workarounds, things won’t function quite like they used to. Pixel users may notice a marked drop in ad performance. This appears to be related to IOS14 and it can happen even if your ad isn’t actively using the pixel.

The solution is to update the pixel for IOS14 until Facebook is happy or turn it off, especially if you’re not using it for that ad. When you’re setting up new ads, turn off the pixel in the ad creation phase (when it’s not relevant to the ad).

IOS14 and ad performance
The IOS14 update also impacts ad performance, data reporting, and the functionality of the ads interface. Authors are going to see some wild stuff! Here’s what’s what.

The big change is there can now be a three-day lag in ad results reporting. You may set up ads and see nothing happen in your interface.

Zero reach. Zero clicks. Zero spend.

For days.

It’s not a glitch and there’s probably nothing wrong with your ad. The lag is the new normal. It doesn’t appear to have rolled out universally yet. I’m hopeful they’ll create a modeling method to compensate for the gap so some authors may never see it.

Facebook has changed the ad metrics columns defaults in the ads interface as well, making them pixel-centric. You’ll need to customize them again to show metrics that are useful to your ads.

As IOS14 rolls out, authors may see long-running ads falter. One, it appears they are no longer supporting older ad formats. Two, they may have eliminated interest targets in your long-running ads. Three, older ads often have the pixel turned on even if it’s not in use. You can try editing an ad to turn off the pixel (if it’s on), but otherwise the answer is to start a new ad.

If the issue is that interests have been eliminated, you can edit saved audiences to remove them, or if the audience wasn’t saved, you’ll have to start a new ad. New ads using previously saved audiences where targets have been eliminated may not run and you won’t always see a flag unless you go in to edit the ad.

Another new pattern is an initial high cost per click. Big spikes in ad costs will make you think you should turn off an ad. Don’t. Wait and see. This typically resolves on its own.

Time is the real name of the game for Facebook ads in 2021. It takes longer to get ad data and for ads to find a performance groove. Ads may need more than the usual five-day learning period to sort themselves out.

IOS14 impact on audiences and ad costs
Another possible fallout from the IOS14 update is a decrease in audience sizes. Apple users are 14 percent of Facebook’s user base, and Facebook will lose a lot of app-based tracking data.

I suspect the impact will be temporary, though. Facebook is rapidly recalibrating how they collect data and improving data capture on their wholly owned app properties. Any decrease may resolve as they adjust their data model and algorithms.

Ad costs may increase as well. With the pixel losing functionality, businesses that relied on it may come in and take up more space in interest targeting, making ads more competitive. This could be the new status quo or it may be temporary as Facebook rolls out different workarounds for IOS14.

What should authors do?
Aside from the advice above, periodically search for articles about IOS14 and Facebook ads and see what’s new. As an example of how important this is, this article has already been updated four times with new information in less than a month. It’s possible parts of this article will be obsolete in the next five minutes. Things are moving fast.

However, my testing shows that long-term performance with low costs is still possible. As a data point, I’m on month three running the same ad with the same return. Ads work, but you’ll need to fiddle to figure out what makes Facebook tick now.

During the first quarter of 2021, I analyzed several hundred Facebook ads for books and cross-referenced them with sales rank. Ninety percent of those ads have books that are ranking higher than 50,000.

Ads are working. Don’t get scared off by big changes.

The book business landscape is never the same for long. With digital marketing, change is the only constant. The key is to do your due diligence, keep marketing skills sharp, and write more books.