Can marketers use Facebook Messages?

From “Gmail killer” to “what Google Wave should have been”, there has been no shortage of opinion about Facebook Messages. But, what, if any, are the advantages for the humble marketer?
The Social Inbox is probably the feature that is likely to have the most impact to our industry. This new functionality allows Facebook users to prioritise messages from friends and other people they interact with, so that those messages are more likely to show up in the “messages” area of the social inbox.
Other people who contact you are likely to go to that “other” section, where you can decide if you want to prioritise their messages higher or lower. If you interact with those people, or choose to mark their messages as most important to you, those contacts are upgraded to the “messages” realm. Unwanted and unknown email is likely to be relegated to “junk” status. There’s even a setting that can allow a Facebook user to reject mail from unknown/unwanted senders.
Sound familiar? This is somewhat similar to Gmail’s new Priority Inbox functionality.
Interaction is king, if you want to be able to contact Facebook users. Exactly how a company can be invited through this barrier and allowed to be part of the “messages” inbox experience remains to be seen. Is this even a place where it makes sense for your typical one-to-many email messages to live? A moot point.
I think it makes sense to start thinking about how to integrate what you’re doing into the Facebook experience. Make it easy for subscribers to opt-in to your messaging from your Facebook page. Make it easy for subscribers to be able to change their subscription email address. Make sure you have a social media strategy and a Facebook presence, so that you still have a way to interact with these users who otherwise may not be welcoming your messages to the inbox.
Mark Zuckerberg was clear that this is not a Gmail killer. Email is still really important to a lot of people, says Facebook. They certainly hope that over time, people will shift a lot of their one-to-one messaging over to this “simpler messaging system”. But how fast that will happen, and how broadly that will be accepted, are still unknown.
Gmail was launched in 2004. It took a good five years for it to overtake AOL as an email messaging platform. Facebook has a large, built-in userbase, many of whom are likely to want to kick the tyres and take this new functionality for a test drive, but that doesn’t mean that things are going to change overnight.
Consider that this functionality is now in a “closed beta-test” period. It is invite-only, and Facebook says it will be rolling it out slowly over the next few months. Everybody said that Gmail was an “AOL killer”. AOL is certainly smaller than it was in 2004, but it hasn’t exactly disappeared, either. It’s still a large and important email messaging platform.
Power users of email and IM functionality may want to wait and see exactly how the various features and functionality work out. Facebook was clear that threading wasn’t part of the mix, and that was by design. There’s no IMAP email messaging support. IM aficionados may by disappointed by the lack of a voice or video component. Facebook says it may consider additional features like these in the future, but they’re not on the table today.

Al Iverson is director of privacy and deliverability, for email and social media marketing specialist ExactTarget

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