Why Has “Issues Advertising” Become a Big Issue for Law Firms on Facebook?

Gavel on top of laptop

A couple weeks ago, we talked about Facebook’s new rules about the kinds of advertising it allows. Now we’ll zero in on why law firms have become especially subject to scrutiny under those new rules. In fact, those rules could cause ads that your firm seeks to place on this powerful marketing platform to be rejected.

All this and more is discussed in FindLaw’s new white paper, Facebook’s Ad Rules Have Changed: Are You Prepared? For you to understand those rules and those changes, we need to share a little background.

What is “Political”?

Much of the rationale behind the changes has to do with one of Facebook’s biggest advantages for advertisers: its ability to target highly specific sets of users.

Very simply, Facebook is a massive treasure trove of data. And that lets advertisers target their messages to very specific demographics. It can let them access potential customers and clients based on users’ likes and dislikes, where they work and where they live. What’s more, since Facebook’s tools help advertisers pick through and organize that information, any group can design an ad that could reach users with specific political leanings, income ranges, or past purchasing behaviors.

And that vast repository has made it valuable not only to big companies, but also to very local advertisers – like law firms.

But that strength has also proven to be a weakness. This year, Facebook has stood under the hot lights of public scrutiny. In response, it enacted new rules to make sure that users’ data isn’t being abused by political propagandists.

Facebook’s capabilities haven’t changed, but how they can be used has changed significantly. Facebook now requires people and businesses seeking to post “issues-based” ads to verify their account and prove they are who they claim to be.

This is nothing new for political advertising. But the way social media in general and Facebook in particular had been used to influence the electorate over the past few years has thrown numerous wrenches into the situation. Facebook’s application of the rules doesn’t apply only to promotions for specific candidates or upcoming votes. They also cover anything that falls under a standard referred to as “issues advertising.”

And that’s a term even nonpolitical advertisers need to understand.

Learn how to work around Facebook’s challenges with our white paper.

Touchy Subjects

In its online “Help for Advertisers” section, Facebook offers a list of “National Issues of Public Importance.” You can see that list here. As you’ll note, it’s pretty extensive. A business or organization using any of these terms in its Facebook advertising may need to incorporate labeling in its ad that identifies it as “political” in nature.

At this point, you might be thinking: But my practice isn’t political. Why should I worry about this list?

Very simply, because even nonpolitical firms can use wording in their ads that Facebook’s new algorithm seems to “read” as political or “issues-based.” That long list of “issues of national importance” can include terms that many law firms use in their advertising.

One obvious example is immigration. If your firm’s specialty is immigration services, you know that’s become a touchy political subject. And that affects how you reach your target audience via a Facebook ad. You don’t want to simply target people with an interest in immigration. That would leave you open to attracting Facebook users who see immigration as a political issue. Instead, you’d be better off focusing on specific kinds of visas and specific cultural populations.

But even if you’re careful about how you target your audience, Facebook might still reject your ad. At FindLaw, we’ve found that immigration law advertising needs to avoid appearing to advocate for or against certain laws or policies.

Or let’s say your specialty is tax law and estate planning. If you run a Facebook ad with the name of a particular law, or even just the word “tax,” the ad is very likely to grab the attention of Facebook’s algorithm. In fact, any mention of laws and taxes could make the ad appear to be addressing political concerns.

It does appear that Facebook’s new algorithm is intended to be a wide net catching anything that might look politically motivated. Research suggests that many elements can trigger a “political” rejection. Those elements include the topic of the ad, the image it uses, and political content on the destination page where the ad directed its visitors.

As we’ve said before, Facebook remains a powerful marketing tool. But your firm now needs to use that tool more carefully. FindLaw’s newest white paper shows how your firm can keep from getting hurt – that is, how your ads can avoid running afoul of Facebook’s new rules.

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