Social Media Marketing…Or is it Email Marketing?: The New Facebook Messages
Over at MarketingExperiments’ sister company, we’re accepting entries for MarketingSherpa’s 6th Annual Email Marketing Awards. We’ve added a new category this year: best innovation. I’m really looking forward to seeing the latest ideas marketers have cooked up.
One new tactic we’ve seen this year is the integration of social media and email. And Facebook just launched the mother-of-all mashups between these two channels: Facebook Messages.
Truly Integrated Messaging
Facebook’s launch last week of its new Messages system is a step toward truly integrated communication. The announcement, though, raises many questions for email marketers, particularly since Facebook is offering its over 500 million active users @facebook.com email addresses.
Facebook is slowly rolling out the new features. I don’t have them, for instance (hint, hint Mr. Zuckerberg). Here are the main features we know will soon be available to all users:
1. Seamless messaging — messages will not be listed by date but organized by contact. Conversation history will be stored for extended periods.
2. Integrated messaging — users can integrate their Facebook messages, SMS texts, and @facebook.com email into the new Messages system. All the content sent through these means will be pulled into the seamless conversations mentioned above.
3. Social/Friends inbox — Facebook messages will have two inboxes. One will essentially be for messages from friends, and the “other” folder will be for everyone else.
There are other smaller highlights — such as the elimination of formal subject lines and the ability to have group conversations. Many features are customizable. For example, users can specify that they only want to receive messages from “friends” and “friends of friends.”
Email Marketing Lives On
Facebook messages will not spell “Instant Death” for email marketing. People commonly hold multiple email addresses (I have four), and Facebook’s email compatibility will not spark a mass exodus from Gmail or Hotmail.
Furthermore, healthy percentages of marketers are reporting positive ROIs for email marketing and are unlikely to quit the channel any time soon. Heck — marketers are still sending direct mail.
My prediction is that Facebook’s messaging service will be used primarily for interacting with friends and family — just as Facebook is used today. People will still keep separate email accounts for professional contacts and newsletter subscriptions.
What Is Up with HTML?
Most email marketers should still be wondering whether they’ll be able to reach subscribers who have @facebook.com email addresses. The answer appears to be yes, although you’ll have to fight to get out of the “other” inbox (more on that later).
What is completely unclear — at least to me — is whether Facebook will accept HTML-based emails. All the screenshots and explanations I’ve seen do not address the topic. Also — how would an HTML-based email be converted into an SMS message?
Marketers have many beautiful HTML-based newsletters, and until I see some proof, I have serious doubts that they’ll render well for @facebook.com subscribers.
If this is true — text-based emails may yet again prove to be the tool of choice for easily emailing subscribers across an array of platform (as I mentioned in a mobile email design article yesterday).
Relevancy Remains a Top Priority
Delivering highly relevant email content was the number one challenge reported by email marketers in 2009, according to MarketingSherpa’s 2010 Email Marketing Benchmark Report (2011 Report will be released in a matter of weeks).
Google’s two-tiered Priority Inbox and now Facebook’s two-tiered Social Inbox make relevancy even more important. Emails have to be valuable enough to be consistently opened, clicked and whitelisted or risk falling into the junk heap.
Delivering relevant and valuable information in email marketing goes beyond a best practice — it’s an unwritten law. Facebook’s announcement has underlined this law yet again.
New Multi-channel Opportunities
Facebook members will potentially receive SMS messages based on the emails you send to their @facebook.com addresses. If they want, they can reply to you in a chat tool on Facebook’s website for some real-time one-to-one messaging.
This is an opportunity for email marketing to become a gateway to several different marketing channels, which is both deeply interesting and complicated. Social media marketing managers may have their hands full with chat sessions, and email marketers may have to craft messages that are relevant to mobile audiences.
A good solution might be for marketers to segment @facebook.com email addresses from the rest of their databases for a targeted strategy.
Research and Testing Point the Way
If any of these new features concern or excite you, then it’s time to learn as much about them as possible. Request a Facebook email address, wait it out (its killing me) and start testing how your emails will look. If you have a large Facebook audience, you should start researching how it uses SMS and if your marketing can be relevant there.