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What will the death of third-party cookies mean for paid social media?

What are Google's cookies?

Cookies (the not-so-tasty kind) are little pieces of data that follow you around the internet. They collect information and allow brands to target their advertising at consumers who are more likely to buy from them. In recent years, they have come under more and more scrutiny for their ability to identify individuals on the internet.

What is the difference between a first-party and third-party cookie?

First-party cookies collect information on a website that goes directly back to the company that created the software or cookie, e.g. Meta’s new first-party Pixel cookie (read on for more on Meta). Whereas information collected by third-party cookies is often shared with additional websites and companies that the consumer may not have interacted with directly. This is where the problem lies. To keep up with consumer demand for more data privacy, Google has announced it will be phasing out the use of third-party cookies by the end of 2023. For more information on why Google plans to remove third-party cookies, read our blog "What does the death of third-party cookies mean for marketers?" In this article, we will delve into how the removal of third-party cookies will impact the world of social media.

How paid social media uses third-party data

Rising demand for privacy has meant that consumers are now cautious over which brands they give their data to. However, social media is in an interesting position, as every user of any social media platform must sign up for the service and give their details. And, therefore, it can be argued that consumers give explicit consent for their data to be used when setting up an account with a social platform. While individuals do not need to divulge a lot of data to set up an account, social media platforms are a treasure trove of data – data that your brand can use.


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Using saved audiences on social platforms

Even if third-party cookies are being phased out, there are still potential audiences saved in the social media platform itself. Platforms have a good level of data on their audience’s interests, such as whether their customers like beauty products and are 20–40 years old. This means you can use their data to target your prospective customers. Social media companies do this by using their own data-gathering tools – Meta’s and TikTok’s Pixels are examples. The Pixel is a must for brands that want to track social conversions, and then subsequently track customers through their website. While Facebook’s Pixel used to apply only third-party cookies, they have released a first-party version to combat Safari and Firefox banning the third-party cookie a while back (TikTok released its version in early 2022). The first-party Pixel will automatically be used to pass data back to Facebook and TikTok as long as the sites have established a first-party relationship, unless the company advertising has opted out (check your settings under “Pixel and Cookie Settings” in Facebook and under “Settings” in TikTok).

Some platforms, such as Twitter and TikTok, also have event tags, which will help you track website activity from their platforms. While their tags and Pixels may have to adapt slightly to align with Google’s changes, targeting in social media mostly acts like Google’s replacement for the third-party cookie, Topics. Topics groups individuals together based on what they have been searching for in the last few weeks. However, individuals in the group cannot be singled out in Topics, whereas on social media platforms they can. If you want to know more about Topics, read our general blog here.

As users must sign up to a social media platform alongside the updated first-party Pixels, social media will remain largely unaffected by the changes in Google’s cookie policies.

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Using first-party data in paid social media

Even if third-party cookies are useful, first-party cookies are much more accurate. Data gathered from your own website means that you own data about new, and potential, customers. Ecommerce brands are usually the best at gathering first-party data by their very nature, as they can track customers who use their website. Brands that have a real-life presence will have to take in-person shopping into account (as not all their customers’ behaviours will be reflected online). Read our blog to find out how to build your first-party data lists.

This first-party data can then be uploaded onto social media channels for retargeting ads, by using paid campaign settings such as “lookalike audiences”. And, if your brand decides it only wants to use first-party data moving forward, then retargeting ads are a great option. Customers who are retargeted are more likely to convert by 43%, meaning that using retargeting adverts should be at least a consideration for your brand.

How will the death of third-Party cookies affect you?

Short-term return on investment may drop while social media platforms settle from the change. We do not expect this to last for any length of time; think of the Cambridge Analytica scandal that Facebook bounced back from! There are currently 2.93 billion active monthly Facebook users, compared to 2.32 billion active monthly users by the end of 2018 (when the scandal broke).

However, long-term consumer habits may change as people become more protective of their data. This means that the number of people in the advertising pool may shrink. This is less of a concern for social media marketers as social media is ever-growing in popularity; there were 4.48 billion people actively using social media in 2021, an increase of 13.13% from 2020.


As Google has recognised that “users are demanding greater privacy – including transparency, choice and control over how their data is used – and it’s clear the web ecosystem needs to evolve to meet these increasing demands”, brands will follow. And they already are, with 57% of marketers adopting consent-driven personalisation. Keep up to date with best practices, and work with an agency such as ourselves (or your in-house team) to ensure you are ready for the “death” of third-party cookies. 









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