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What Facebook’s New Messaging System Means for Marketers

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by: Loren McDonald (@LorenMcDonald)
16 November 2010

As expected, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg unveiled the social network’s “next generation messaging” system yesterday, and the highly anticipated announcement underscores both the key role email plays in today’s communications and the implicit need for social media and email to work hand in hand.

The new messaging service, which will roll out gradually after an invitation-only start, will focus on seamless messaging, conversation history across multiple channels, and a "social inbox" that can filter the inbox to only allow messages from “friends.”

The announcement, coupled with AOL’s Project Phoenix unveiling on Sunday and similar expected inbox enhancements by Yahoo, MSN and Google, confirms that we’re seeing a movement toward a single messaging inbox.

So, with more than 500 million Facebook users, what impact will the social network’s new messaging system—and the similar iterations from others referenced above—have on marketers?  Here are seven areas marketers will need to pay careful attention to moving forward:

1) Brand name/subject line: With Facebook doing away with subject lines, “From” names and brand ID become even bigger in determining whether recipients ignore, delete or open your message. Now’s the time to revisit your “From” name and make sure it’s the shortest, most logical, most recognized brand that would make sense to subscribers and that they would most likely expect to see in their inboxes.

2) Design: Zuckerberg talked about shorter, less formal messages, and the need to optimize your email’s design to make sure it works regardless of environment has never been more important. Make sure your design is optimized for blocked images and consider adding text to the preheader to ensure your value proposition or call to action is communicated even in email clients’ preview snippets.

3) Personality/voice: As social and email continue to become more integrated, it’s essential that your company marketing messages reflect this, focusing more on education, personality and peer recommendations. If your messages continue to be solely filled with sales pitches and corporate speak, you risk getting lost in the inbox, so take the time to create a personality in your messages that makes them “pop.”

4) Relevance: The new Facebook messaging tool, which allows users to restrict their Facebook inbox to only include friends (or “friends of friends”), prioritize notes from some senders, and relegate others into—well, an "other" folder—once again confirms the importance of relevance. Though it’s still unclear whether “liked” companies will receive preferential inbox placement, the fact that users can move senders from the “Others” track to the “Messages” box—and vice-versa—means that marketers will need to use every tool at their disposal—segmentation, personalization and more—to ensure they engage recipients. By moving your program to one that’s triggered by individual user behavior and data, you’ll be well-positioned to thrive in the age of the “layered” inbox.

5) Multichannel communications: With its integration across channels, Facebook’s new messaging system underscores the wisdom of integrating marketing communications across multiple channels—both social and traditional. Just like some of your Facebook friends may want you to confirm plans via text, but share photos on Facebook and engage in some spirited back-and-forth about the weekend’s big game via email, marketers should also realize that recipients expect different things from different channels and should reach out across a variety of touch points to achieve maximum impact.

6) Preference centers: With new Facebook email addresses potentially flooding the scene, you’ll want to take steps to minimize list churn. Make sure your email preference center includes an address-change option and that you link to it prominently within all your outbound email and on your Facebook page. The preference center is also key in giving consumers the ability to connect with you by whatever channel they prefer—which may depend on the type of message you’re sending. Simply put, preference centers are now a must.

7) Timing: Acting quickly is becoming a must in the communications arena. Whether it’s delivering transactional emails seconds after a purchase or sending a triggered cart recovery message in real time, top-tier marketers embrace tactics that enable timely communications with customers. By matching your messaging cadence to current trends, buying patterns, news events and other factors, you can maximize your effectiveness. And marketers who are going a step further and analyzing recipients’ inbox behavior over time to select the ideal message delivery time for each and every individual are reaping tremendous rewards—driving conversions and even increasing average order size.


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