March 2021 Updates:

Within the first month of 2021 alone, multiple events surrounding data privacy have occurred. These events and their resulting concerns will, and already are, changing the way digital marketing operates for the rest of 2021 and beyond.

As digital marketers, it’s vital to keep updated on these developments and adapt your strategy accordingly. Here’s a lowdown on what you need to know, and our take on what’s needed to ensure you stay at the top of your marketing game, moving forward.

Table of Contents

Key Event: The backlash of Whatsapp’s Policy Changes

The big hoo-ha that ensued following Whatsapps announcement of their policy updates speaks volumes about the global concern for privacy. To Whatsapp’s chagrin, the fiasco erupted over a misunderstanding. The update was meant to outline changes to chats between businesses and their customers. Specifically, it states how such chats may be stored on Facebook-owned servers, and that Facebook would have access to these commercial interactions to optimize targeted ads on their platform. Personal chats between friends and families would remain end-to-end encrypted and untouched.

Unfortunately, the legal jargon, coupled with the ultimatum to accept the T&Cs or cease using Whatsapp entirely, was a terrible mix. Dissatisfaction spiked, and people leapt to the conclusion that their personal chats too would be made available to Facebook. The misinformation went viral, and erupted into massive public outcry.

Many chose to boycott Whatsapp, and flocked to alternatives Telegram and Signal. Telegram saw twice the amount of weekly downloads than it usually does, going from 7.6 million downloads to 15.7 million. Signal had a 61-fold increase, going from 285,000 downloads to 17.8 million

Following the backlash, Whatsapp postponed the deadline to accept its new policies from 8 February to 8 May. They also employed the use of Status messages to inform users what exactly the new terms entailed.

While they hurriedly tried to clear the air, the damage had already been done. Consumer confidence has taken a big blow. Perhaps some will return to the app, following the clarifications. However, Facebook doesn’t exactly have the best track record when it comes to data privacy. Many are likely to stick with the switch. This is especially so in Europe, where privacy is seen as an essential right.

Actions to Take: Follow your customers

The most important thing is to follow where your customers are. If your business utilizes Whatsapp to engage customers, perhaps it’s time to expand into Telegram & Signal as well.

Telegram in particular holds a lot of promise. On top of the added ability to edit and pin messages, you can also create channels, bots and supergroups. Said functions have great potential for your business.

Re: Telegram Channels

With Telegram channels, your subscribers receive messages of whatever you, or any assigned admins, post in it. They function similarly to newsletters and emails, albeit with much better open rates since they’re hosted on a personal messaging app. The challenge lies in recruiting subscribers, which you can invite by sharing a link or QR code.

New York Times, for example, runs a Telegram channel with over 44,000 subscribers, updating them with news stories everyday. There are also channels specializing in tech news, tips and guides. Some well known Singaporean channels include SG Food Deals and SG Student Promos. They share the latest local deals for food and students respectively.

Such channels are likely created by individuals who, upon recruiting a good amount of subscribers, open up paid promotion opportunities to businesses. You can consider reaching out to such individuals to make advertised posts in their channels. Since Telegram channels cater to specific niches, you’ll be able to reach out to highly specific audiences.

Alternatively, you can consider making a Telegram channel for your business. You can use it to keep current customers updated of promotions, or create a more generic channel that ties back to your brand. A fashion brand could create one that shares fashion and beauty tips, for example. This builds expertise and credibility for the brand itself, and can potentially convert cold leads into warm prospects.

Re: Telegram Bots

Telegram also supports bots, which brings automation and efficiency with managing channels and groups. It also enhances the experience. By embedding a bot into your channel or chat, you can send notifications, receive alerts, set reminders and translate messages. This can make customer service on Telegram so much more streamlined.

Bots can even be used to play games. For example, you can play Cards against Humanity on Telegram with friends through the bot, Chats against Humanity. How cool is that?

Re: Telegram Groups

If you prefer open discussions, and would like posting options to be available to all who join – create a group. Telegram groups support up to 200,000 members. Once you hit 200 members, you can convert it into a supergroup. Supergroups are more optimized to host larger communities, and are able to support up to 5000 members.

Re: Telegram’s Privacy & Security

However, Telegram might be less secure compared to Whatsapp. Instead of end-to-end encryption, chats are stored on Telegram’s cloud, and encryption is only between your device and the cloud. While secret chats are available, it’s only an option for personal one-to-one chats. It was also found that their self-destructing messages could still be accessed after “destruction”. While the vulnerability was patched, it still highlights that security and privacy on Telegram still has its cracks.

Re: Signal

Signal, on the other hand, is considered even more secure than Whatsapp. It’s protected by state-of-the-art end-to-end encryption powered by Signal Protocol. Since it’s an independent non-profit running on donations, it cannot be acquired by businesses. If you’d like a simple, no-frills messaging app to stay in contact with customers, Signal is a good choice.

Key Event: Google’s Privacy Sandbox (Updated March 2021)

Back in August 2020, Google announced plans for their Privacy Sandbox initiative. This aims to give users more peace of mind browsing the web by restricting cross-site tracking. They plan to remove support for third party cookies and render them obsolete. Developments are already underway in 2021.

In March, Google announced that they had no plans to allow tracking of alternative user-level identifiers. In particular, they called into question the viability of using email-based identifiers, positing that they “aren’t a sustainable long term investment”. This effectively undermines Unified ID 2.0, a debatable solution which hinged on tracking hashed emails. For ad tech companies that invested in it, this is devastating.

What Google does plan to do is roll out a whole series of initiatives:

FLoC testing is underway, which clusters individuals into a large group based on common interests, granting them a higher degree of anonymity. It is expected to be available for public testing this March. Tests on Google Ads are expected in Q2. The first iteration of new user controls will be released in April.

FLEDGE outlines an ad serving framework where the ad auction is moved into the browser, serving ads based on FLoCs. Campaign budget & bids are stored on a trusted server framework. Experimentation could start in Q2.

Gnatcatcher is a proposal to mask IP addresses of users without affecting website operations.

They also plan on developing privacy preserving APIs. Noise is introduced and data is limited, protecting data privacy. An event-level iteration to measure click-through conversions is currently available in origin trials. Trust Token APIs to help advertisers identify fraud traffic are also in development, with origin trials expected in March.

Actions to Take: Keep up to date

Since many of these proposals are still in development, the only thing you can really do is stay informed. Check if origin trials and public testing are available and experiment with the APIs yourself. When the initiatives are rolled out in full, you’ll know exactly what to do and what to expect.

Key Event: Upcoming implementation of iOS14’s opt-in user-tracking feature

iOS14’s upcoming data privacy feature is due early spring 2021. The impending deadline fills ad platforms and marketers with no small amount of dread. With it, iOS14 users will have to actively opt in to allow apps to track their data, rather than opt out. This will limit pixel tracking capabilities, which are the heart of optimizing online ads.

Facebook is already rolling out multiple changes to their campaign manager to prepare advertisers for the change. One such change is the shift to Aggregated Events Measurement to collate results from iOS14 users. In short, each domain is limited to 8 conversion events they can optimize for with their ads. It was advised by a Facebook Marketing Expert that standard events could be measured more effectively than customized ones.

Reporting will be limited as well. There will no longer be real-time results or breakdowns. The default conversions attribution window has also shifted from 28 days to 7 days, which will impact reported results. Moving forward, the 28-day click-through, 28-day view-through, and 7-day view-through attribution will become unavailable entirely. You will only be able to optimize based on 1-day click, 7-day click, 1-day click and 1-day view, or 7-day click and 1-day view.

March 2021 Update:

Snapchat too is on top of the latest Apple changes. In March, they rolled out a Resource Hub dedicated to preparing advertisers for iOS14’s changes. Preparation guides for mobile apps and mobile web advertising have been released.

Likewise to Facebook, attribution windows will be restricted to a period of 1 to 7 days, and audience sizes are expected to decrease.

Actions to Take: Prepare accordingly

Depesh Mandalia, an expert in Facebook marketing recognized by Facebook itself, has published a Guide on Facebook Advertising for marketers to keep up with iOS14 related changes. It’s updated with a timeline that keeps track of all the changes, along with tips on how to prepare for them. It would be best to check on it regularly to stay on top of everything that’s happening.

While things are still in the air, pending rollout of the new privacy measures – the most important thing to do is to verify the domains linked to your Facebook pages. This can be done in your Business Settings, under Brand Safety.

1) Verify your Facebook Domains

There are 3 ways to verify a domain, and they involve 1) adding a TXT record to the domain’s DNS configuration, 2) uploading a HTML File to the website’s root directory or 3) adding a Meta-tag to the html code of the home page. The last option, we found, was the easiest to implement.

2) Setup Facebook Conversions API (Updated March 2021)

Facebook is currently encouraging advertisers to set up a business tool called the Facebook Conversions API. By setting it up, you can share web events on your server directly with Facebook’s, bypassing the browser. It gives businesses more autonomy in choosing what data to share with Facebook. It also improves pixel accuracy, and enables you to track more customer actions.

If you use Facebook’s Custom Audiences, Retargeting, Lookalike audiences, Ads reporting and optimization tools, this is something to implement to work around the restrictions of ATT.

3) Prepare Your Apps

For app advertising on Facebook, make sure to update to Facebook SDK version 8.1 or above. This will enable you to create iOS14 app install campaigns. Secondly, be sure to configure for Apple’s SKAdNetwork, their new tracking tool, in the Events Manager. For in depth details on what to do, refer to Facebook’s Business Help Center.

Google too has released a guide on how to prepare apps accordingly. Similar to Facebook, it is advised that you update to Google Mobile Ads SDK 7.64.0 to optimize for Apple’s SKAdNetwork. Google is preparing to switch up their privacy measures to comply with Apple, removing IDFA tracking from iOS14 apps so that they can bypass showing the App Tracking Transparency prompt entirely.

Likewise, Snapchat outlined similar recommended preparations for advertising your mobile app on their platform.

4) Adjust Your Audiences

While marketing reach towards iOS14 users will be impacted, an android user base will not be affected. Consider segmenting your audiences by operating systems.

The ATT policy will largely affect cross-site tracking and targeting. Where possible, generate lookalike audiences within the ad platform for scale, and create retargeting audiences from those who have engaged with past campaigns.

On the whole, ad performance tracking will be impeded, so be prepared to see a drop in reported results. This will affect the ability of ad platforms to optimize ads, which will loop back to impact performance in turn. The degree to which marketers can segment audiences and personalize ads will become limited.

Your marketing strategies will have to be re-evaluated to prioritize certain conversions, given the new restrictions. Retargeting tactics might have to be revamped, especially if you retarget based on data across multiple platforms and apps.

Tracing the Timeline & Future Trends

This is the cumulative effect of recurring privacy issues and the resulting concerns, mounting over the past few years.

Privacy concerns seemed to have escalated exponentially from 2018, where a whole slew of attacks on data privacy and security occurred. This includes the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal, where the latter harvested information from Facebook accounts to profile voters of the US presidential election. Google also had a scandal of collecting location data even when users explicitly opted to disable tracking. All this happened alongside multiple data breaches for several companies as well.

In response to all this, Europe implemented the GDPR in May 2018. Other countries soon followed, introducing new data protection acts or updating current ones. Examples include Brazil with the LGPD, Canada with DCIA, China’s PIPL, and Singapore’s PDPA.

With all that simmering in the background, it’s little wonder that people are wary of having their privacy violated again.

Even if you run a small business, as long as you collect leads, run ads or track data, it’s best to double down and ensure maximum protection of your customers’ data. Don’t just make it an afterthought, to push back to whenever is convenient for you.

Apple’s iOS14 privacy updates is likely only the start of this new age of enhanced data protection. Marketers will have to be on the ball with developments and adapt their online marketing strategy accordingly. There’s no point bemoaning policy changes, just continue as you’ve always done —

Stay flexible, experiment and optimize.

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