Facebook's New Messages – How Will It Impact Your Email-Marketing Program?

There’s been quite a bit of fanfare surrounding Facebook’s recent announcement about its new integrated messaging system. Although Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg emphasized, “This is not an email killer,” there are some interesting potential implications of Facebook’s new platform for email marketers.

What Exactly Is Facebook’s New Messages?
According to various presentations, videos, and Facebook’s own blog, the new Messages platform will offer three primary features:

  1. Seamless Messaging — Integrates SMS, chat, email (everyone who wants one will get an @facebook.com email address), and Messages. Users decide how they prefer to communicate, and Messages simply integrates the communications. In other words, you don’t have to think about how each of your friends or contacts prefers to communicate.
  2. Conversation History — Messages are organized around people, so you can easily see a history of your conversations with anyone. (I do wonder, however, if users truly want conversations organized around people versus a single conversation among two or more friends.)
  3. Social Inbox — Everyone will have two email folders. One will be for email from friends and friends of friends, while the “other” is for email from everyone else. And Facebook will let users configure their settings to bounce any unwanted email. You can easily move email from anyone you designate into the “friends” folder, akin to “whitelisting” in our current email clients.

The platform appears to be an extension of Facebook’s chat capabilities. For example, communications won’t have subject, “to,” or “cc” lines. Pay-per-click expert and Facebook guru Dennis Yu calls the new Messages platform a tool that slices across communications. “This is just another way to look at your communications,” says Yu. “This doesn’t mean that people will stop using email, SMS, or whatever other preferred communication mechanism.” Yu emphasizes, “Facebook will simply be providing a new view into those communications.”

Few people know exactly how the Messages upgrade will work, as Facebook is rolling it out on an invitation-only basis over the next several months. Likely, Facebook is doing so to manage early reactions so they can improve it and iterate development in an effort to get it right as larger masses of consumers are invited to the platform.

Implications for Email Marketing
I am never one to ignore a potential competitor or change in technology that may not, at first, appear to be a major threat. So let’s consider the implications of Facebook Messages in terms of its impact on consumer (B2C) versus business-to-business (B2B) marketing.

Envisioning B2B business-oriented communications migrating to the Facebook Messages platform is difficult. Although businesses do communicate and advertise to consumers on Facebook, they don’t necessarily communicate with other businesses there. Could that scenario change? I don’t imagine this happening, at least in the near term.

For B2C, Facebook already is a popular platform, with over 200 million users ripe for targeting. Businesses actively advertise there, and consumers listen, at least peripherally, for that next incredible offer. What if large numbers of consumers (or large numbers of existing Facebook users) begin using a Facebook email address or Facebook Messages to manage their SMS, chat, email, and other such communications? That’s a trend worth considering.

In email marketing, the entire value of your email campaigns is based upon a high-quality list. Professional emailers work tirelessly at building their lists through double opt-in, permission-based practices. The advent of the Facebook Messages upgrade simply raises the “permission bar” to a new level. How important that becomes is dependent upon the rate of uptake by consumers of a Facebook email address and the Messages communications management toolset.

If we were to imagine large numbers of consumers moving to the Facebook Messages platform as their primary method for managing email, that’s certainly a change that could impact email marketers.

Permission Will Most Certainly Rule the Day…Again
With Messages, consumers will use two primary folders: one for email from friends and friends of friends, and one for email from everyone else. To what extent will people ever look at the email in the “Other” box? Does that become the current “Junk” box? Perhaps. Getting out of that Junk box, however, is what permission marketing is all about.

For those email marketers who already have strong permission-marketing best practices, using them religiously will be more important than ever. Just getting people’s okay to email to them won’t be enough. With Facebook Messages, you’ll also have to get them to move you from the “Other” to the “Friends” box.

In seminars and talks, I often ask my audience how many newsletters they get. I then ask how many they read. You want your newsletter to be the one that gets read. If it’s not, then your content and messaging simply aren’t relevant enough to warrant the open. I argue that the people you should care most about are those who do read your newsletter. With Messages, you’ll likely have even more difficulty reaching those people who are “borderline” interested in your messages. That may be a good thing, as you should be focusing and customizing your messaging for those who consider your newsletter among the two or three that they actually read.

So, if you’re concerned about Facebook Messages increasing the difficulty of reaching your audience, first consider whether you deserve their attention. Do what’s necessary now to build a one-to-one relationship to the best extent possible. Provide content, offers, and other communications that each person on your list wants to read. Know their preferences in great detail and deliver at a frequency they request, and pay attention to how their interests change over time. If you have the practices, analytics, and feedback mechanisms in place, Facebook Messages is simply another challenge to overcome as you continually improve the quality of your email-marketing program.

Tell us how you think Facebook Messages will impact your efforts as an email marketer. The next few months will be interesting.

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