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What Is a Special Housing Category on Facebook, And How Does It affect REALTORS®?

If you use Facebook or Instagram for advertising, you may have noticed a new ad classification that started in 2019, called the Facebook Special Ad Category.  The reason for the change was in 2018, one of the US’s top housing civil rights organizations, the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), as well as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Communication Workers of America (CWA) and other private parties, filed litigation against Facebook, saying that they need to build stronger protections against abuse. 


Civil rights leaders and experts – including members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and Laura Murphy, the highly respected civil rights leader who is overseeing the Facebook civil rights audit – have also raised valid concerns about this issue. Facebook (Meta) took their concerns seriously and, as part of their civil rights audit, engaged a civil rights law firm to review their advertising tools. 


The social platform created this distinction for ads about housing, employment, and credit because housing, employment and credit ads are crucial to helping people buy new homes, start great careers, and gain access to credit. They should never be used to exclude people. Consequently, with the new feature, these ads have limited audience-selection options to prevent discrimination.  If your ad falls under this classification, Facebook will limit the audience targeting options you have available and prevent you from creating a target audience based on age, gender, or zip code. 


These restrictions are a barrier to the full range of advertising options offered on these platforms, but it is still possible to reach people with your ads using the right technique.  Restrictions to detailed targeting mean you won’t be able to exclude specific audiences from seeing your ad, and you will not be able to target based on demographics or behaviors.  However, you can make a “Special Ad Audience,” and Facebook will show your ad to people whose online behavior is similar to your current customers, without matching by demographics. 


If your ad is designed to educate people about their rights and responsibilities with regard to fair housing practices, your ad does not fall into the Facebook Special Ad Category. You can use the Equal Housing Opportunity logo as part of your ad to differentiate it from other types of housing ads.  If your ad is specific to advertising a home listing or any kind of financing, you will need to target your ad broadly by setting the demographics to the “United States” for the location.  Because “interests” are not a discriminating factor, Facebook will still allow you to target people based on that category.  The most obvious of these is the “likely to move” option but because you are not able to limit the location of your audience, you are advertising to people all over the country who are interested in moving.  The next step is to layer interests that are relevant to housing and your community.  You can add targeting based on someone’s home and garden preferences or based on interests available in your area.  For example, if you want to target people in a coastal area, you can add an interest in beaches, or for a mountainous area, people who like to ski or hike. 


The targeting options for advertising are housed in Facebook’s Meta Business Suite under the advertising tab. Once you navigate to the dashboard and click “Create Ad”, you will see several options for creating your ad including boosting a post, create an Instagram ad, etc. Whichever option you choose, you will get to the ad targeting portion after you have completed the creative part of your ad.  The first step is to toggle the special housing category button, which will remove many of the targeting options but if you do not do this, your ad will be rejected.  Next, click the location and set it to ‘United States”, then you can click on the detailed targeting options and add interests that you think will be relevant to your audience. 


The special ad category does make it more challenging for REALTORS® to advertise their listings on Facebook but it is possible to reach people, and the benefits of casting such a wide net could be an increase in business opportunity as well as helping to ensure that housing is accessible to everyone.