Facebook Targeting For Housing
These legal protections easily become eroded in the online age of social media and advertising platforms, as evidenced by Facebook’s recent legal issues over targeted marketing. In March 2019, Facebook targeting for housing changed based on a lawsuit initiated and won by civil rights groups such as American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) and Communication Workers of America (CWA).
To maintain federal Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) compliance, no longer can advertising for tenants on Facebook be specified for age, gender, and zip code. “Facebook has completely removed any ability for ads falling under rentals to target specific demographic audiences including age, gender, location, and interests in order to comply with regulations on nondiscriminatory housing practices,” explains Jake Lizarraga of REITs. The same is true of properties for sale.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) blames Facebook for aiding advertisers in redlining areas, a long-illegal tactic that excludes people who live in certain areas. Because of the Facebook lawsuit, algorithmic modeling used by them and other social media platforms, is now being studied by experts, plaintiffs, and others to better understand its biases. Facebook is also policing itself with a newly created monitoring program.
Online housing advertising is continually being reviewed for potential biases. Keep well informed of additional lawsuits and their outcome.
73% of Americans who bought a service or product because of an ad on social media claimed the ad was posted on Facebook
Advertising For Tenants On Facebook
For all its legal troubles, Facebook is still an affordable go-to marketing tool for many landlords. “According to our study on public sentiment towards Facebook, 73% of Americans who bought a service or product because of an ad on social media claimed the ad was posted on Facebook, showing how beneficial posting rental listings on Facebook can be,” says Realtor Ben Mizes, CEO of Clever.
Looking at the current specific targeting options on Facebook from a Clever article by Thomas O’Shaughnessy, you can see how calculated their targeting is:
- Demographics: Based on information users have shared about themselves on their Facebook profiles
- Interests: Based on information users have added to their timelines, pages they like, apps they use, ads they’ve clicked, etc.
- Behaviors: Based on users’ activities on or off Facebook, tied to their phones and third-party data sources
- Connections: Based users’ friendships and how they’re connected
- Location: Based on users’ current location and places they’ve been in the past
- Remarketing: Based on third-party data imported into Facebook from external sources
Targeting to specific audiences, such as within Facebook marketplace apartments, within fair housing laws can bring more interested leads to your doorstep. Owner and CEO of Creo Home Solutions in Baltimore, Melanie Hartmann realized that “when we post properties to Facebook groups that are specific to the type of property being listed and in the neighborhood or county that the property is located in, we receive more serious inquiries than groups that are more broad or general.” Although Hartmann posts properties for sale, her observation rings true for rentals, too.
When choosing a platform’s evolving targeting options, ask yourself if any options seems questionable. If so, refrain from posting or ask the platform’s service reps about the targeting to make a more informed posting choice.
Advertising on Other Platforms
Unlike the newer Facebook marketplace apartments, Craigslist is an old friend when posting online real estate listings. It’s free or postings are at a minimal charge, and a post can hold lots of photos and text to best display your property. However, Facebook isn’t the first online platform to endure a lawsuit. In 2008, Craigslist won a suit charging it posted discriminatory listings. The judge ruled that since Craigslist is not a publisher, it was not responsible for what others had posted. Today, we know that Craigslist is simply a large digital classified advertising section with no hyper-targeted marketing, but it makes sure to link to lots of information on fair housing laws.
Zillow is another serious advertising platform contender, reportedly with about 66% of all real estate listings throughout their platforms. The platform perfected targeted marketing, but also was scrutinized in early 2019 for its many blatant discriminatory listings. You must carefully review platforms before choosing which ones you will advertising your listings on.
Write A Non-Discriminatory Ad
While online listing platforms are not always monitoring adherence to fair housing laws, here are a few ways you can write a non-discriminatory digital listing regardless of the platform:
- Know all protected classes, including those in your state or municipality
- Refrain from using exclusionary words, such as “no kids” or “married couple only”
- Keep listing broad-based and descriptive – “near bus station”, “bright sunroom”, “large kitchen”
- Don’t use wording that presumes to know who should live in the property, such as “great yard for kids” or “family home”
- Use inclusive photos that show a range of people from all protected classes or show no people at all
- Practice truth in advertising, and don’t misrepresent the property
Targeted Advertising And Fair Housing Laws
The National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) states on their website: “When the Fair Housing Act was written in 1968, we couldn’t have anticipated how technology would change and impact advertising practices.” With its super-focused marketing algorithms and ease of listing, it’s too simple for an ad to be discriminatory. Choose your platform wisely and be mindful of the words you use in every ad.
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