Facebook messages


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Jul 2011

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Facebook messages

  1. 1. Meet the contributors Chip house Senior Director, Industry & Relationship Marketing Whats Inside? 3 A Brief iNTrODUCTiON 3 OVerVieW Kristina huffman Senior Design Consultant 5 fUNCTiONALiTY: HOW iT WOrks 7 DeLiVerABiLiTY issUes 10 emAiL DesiGN & reNDeriNG al iverson Director, Privacy and Deliverability 13 CONCLUsiON Jen ribble Marketing Communications Associate Jeff rohrs Principal, Marketing Research & Education Chris studabaKer, Supervising Consultant, Design Solutions © ExactTarget All rights reserved 01-03162011
  2. 2. exacttarget snapshot: Facebook Messages www.ExactTarget.comexacttarget snapshot: Facebook MessagesA Brief iNTrODUCTiONSince the launch of Facebook Messages in November 2010, marketers have questioned how thisnew platform could impact their ability to communicate with subscribers. Will Facebook Messagesrevolutionize email marketing? Or, conversely, does it have the potential to become an email killer?In this Snapshot, we’ll assess Facebook Messages as it stands today* in terms of functionality,deliverability, and design issues. We’ll also provide insight and advice to marketers regarding the currentchallenges presented by Facebook Messages.We all know how quickly the world of interactive marketing can change—especially where Facebook isconcerned. As Facebook Messages continues to grow and evolve, we’ll do our best to provide updatedassessments and advice. Keeping up k with FacebooOVerVieW changes could be b!The new Facebook Messages (FBM) platform has been promoted as a single inbox that consolidates a full-time joprivate communications from a variety of channels—including email, chats, and texts. Facebook positionsthe new platform as more casual and personal than email, with a format that more closely replicatesreal-life conversation. Launched as an invitation-only add-on to Facebook accounts, Facebook plans agradual rollout to all users with the eventual goal of replacing the current “Messages” functionality.In the early days of this new platform, speculation was rampant that FBM could spell the end of email aswe know it, despite this quote from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at a press conference announcingthe FBM launch:“This is not an email-killer… This is a messaging system that includes email as one part of it.”— Mark Zuckerberg, as quoted in Business Insider, November 15, 2010* Note: This report was published in March 2011. Material changes to Facebook Messages after that date will becovered in our blog: http://blog.exacttarget.com. 3
  3. 3. exacttarget snapshot: Facebook Messages www.ExactTarget.com Some of the uproar may have been fueled by conflicting comments from other Facebook insiders, including this quote from COO Sheryl Sandberg: “If you want to know what people like us will do tomorrow, you look at what teenagers are doing today. Email… is probably going away.” — Sheryl Sandberg, as quoted in FastCompany, June 15, 2010 While there’s no way to predict the growth potential of FBM, it is helpful to consider the history of other online giants. For example, Google was dominant in the world of search engines when it launched its Gmail platform in March 2004. there are no official statistics tallying the number of users for web-based email providers, but there’s enough widely-available information to graph an approximate growth chart: Like FBM, Gmail was initially offered GROWTH OF GMAIL OVER TIME by invitation only; the platform was opened to the public in February 2005 and finally ended its beta testing Number of Unique Users (US) 40 M beGmail grew to 35 M period in July 2009. In that five year estthe third larg period, Gmail grew to be the third ail web-based em 30 M largest web-based email provider. By comparison, Yahoo! Mail had provider in just 25 M approximately 106 million unique five years! 20 M users (US) in July 2009 and Hotmail 15 M had about 47 million. (Reliable numbers for more recent dates are 10 M hard to come by.) So despite its rapid 5M growth since 2004, Gmail still lags 0 these “old school” email providers by 3/04 4/06 1/08 1/09 7/09 a wide margin. Date The difference between FBM and Gmail is that Gmail offered robust email functionality with never-before-seen features. Facebook, on the other hand, stresses simplicity and contends that its messaging platform is not an email service—despite the use of a facebook.com email address. 4
  4. 4. exacttarget snapshot: Facebook Messages www.ExactTarget.com fUNCTiONALiTY: HOW iT WOrks At its most basic level, Facebook Messages appears to function exactly like any other web-based email platform. After being granted access to FBM, the user receives an “@facebook.com” email address, which can be used to send and receive messages. Messages sent to the facebook.com address are routed to one of two places: • the “messages” folder, which is reserved for messages from Facebook friends (and friends of friends). This is roughly equivalent to Gmail’s “Priority Inbox.” • the “other” folder, which is the repository for all other messages, including bulk mail and anything from individuals from outside the user’s Facebook circle. Although not technically a “junk” or “spam” folder, this is clearly a less desirable spot for messages to land due to its somewhat hidden location. ou’llHere’s where y s”...find “Message But and “Other”. “Other” you’ll only see the after clicking der. “Messages” fol hidden! Until then, it’s 5
  5. 5. exacttarget snapshot: Facebook Messages www.ExactTarget.com FBM consolidates all messages from the same user into a single thread. Emails, texts, and chats all appear in one feed, and the user can respond via the channel of their choice. The user can also send messages via FBM to recipients on any platform—email, text, or chat. THe PrOs. From a consumer perspective, there are some advantages to this unusual format. By bundling all messages from the same sender into one thread—including email, texts, and chat—FBM creates a complete history of conversations with that individual. theoretically, this could be kept for years and become a modern version of old letters saved in a box. And the division of messages into the Messages and Other folders does promote Facebook’s stated objective of making this platform more personal—it’s reasonable to think that a consumer might value messages from gesYou like messa Facebook friends over messages from acquaintances or brands. endsfrom your fri rketing THe CONs. Unfortunately, consumers will also discover that some features they’ve come to expect are more than ma completely missing from FBM. t? messages, righ • no subject lines Facebook has eliminated email subject lines in FBM, claiming that this enhances the casual nature of the platform. When a traditional email with a subject line is delivered via FBM, the subject line appears in bold text as the first line of the email, right below the sender name. When the user has several emails from the same sender (displayed in a single thread), it can be extremely difficult to find a particular message, especially considering there’s also… • no way to file or organize messages FBM provides no functionality for organizing message threads into folders, or for separating messages from the same sender. For example, it’s impossible to separate messages from your spouse regarding “ Some features consumers have come to expect are completely ” weekend errands from those related to your summer vacation. If they’re missing from Facebook all from the same person, they’re all in the same thread. Messages. • no way of knowing how many unread messages you have An unread message count appears next to the folder name (Messages or Other) when you have new messages, but it disappears as soon as you open the folder—regardless of whether you actually open any messages. If you have multiple unread messages from a given sender, you’ll also see an unread message counter displayed next to the sender name—but this also disappears as soon as you open the thread from that sender, regardless of whether you read any of their messages. 6
  6. 6. exacttarget snapshot: Facebook Messages www.ExactTarget.comDeLiVerABiLiTY issUesConsumer functionality is all well and good, but as a marketer, you need to know whether your brand’smessages are going to get through. When it comes to Facebook Messages, the answer is… maybe.Facebook currently offers no support for bulk senders, and no analytics to help marketers determinewhere messages are being delivered. So we’ve done our own testing and analysis to find out whathappens to marketing emails in FBM.“MessAges” Vs. “OTHer.” As mentioned previously, only messages from a user’s Facebookfriends (or friends of friends) are delivered to the Messages folder. Everything else is lumped togetherin the Other folder—even messages from companies the user has “liked” on facebook. It’sreasonable to think that in the future, Facebook may give priority placement to brands that users have“liked,” but this functionality is not currently available.It is possible to have your brand’s message delivered to the Messages folder—if the user “promotes”your brand using a command in the Actions menu. (Messages can be “demoted” to the Other folder inthe same way.) So if you begin to notice facebook.com email addresses popping up on your subscriberlist, consider targeting these customers with periodic messages, asking them to “promote” your brandto the Messages folder. romote” A user can “p the your brand to er... Messages fold ind if they can f n menu. this drop-dow 7
  7. 7. exacttarget snapshot: Facebook Messages www.ExactTarget.com To add an additional layer of complexity to the “Messages vs. Other” issue, delivery to these two folders can be somewhat inconsistent. Messages sent by one person from different addresses aren’t grouped together, as they aren’t recognized as the same sender. So if you use multiple send addresses for your marketing emails, it’s possible that some of your messages might arrive in the Messages folder while others are relegated to the Other folder. This is yet another reason to follow best practices and send all your marketing messages from a single address. OrgANizATiON. Facebook groups all messages from the same sender in a single thread, in an effort to simplify the user experience and create a platform that more closely mirrors real-life conversation. But from a marketer’s perspective, this system is extremely problematic. Because all of your messages are grouped together, your brand only gets one spot in the messages or other folder—regardless of how many messages you send. Combined with the lack of a true subject line, this makes it extremely difficult to give your brand any visibility. ts oneYour brand ge essagesspot in the M er or Other fold that’s it! 8
  8. 8. exacttarget snapshot: Facebook Messages www.ExactTarget.comOne more organizational quirk of note: when a user clicks to view the message thread from a givensender, messages are actually displayed with the oldest on top. New messages are sent to the bottomof the list.OUr ADViCe… Despite significant barriers to deliverability, it’s far too early to sound the alarm on FBM.As of right now, a very small number of people have facebook.com addresses, and even fewer are likelyusing FBM as their primary or sole email address.In surveying some of ExactTarget’s largest retail clients, we found that no more than .001% ofsubscribers are currently using facebook.com addresses. That’s nothing more than a roundingerror, for those keeping score at home. But it’s likely to grow as Facebook enables FBM functionality inmore user accounts.Some have suggested simplyrefusing to accept facebook.com email addresses for opt-in Here’s a greatprograms, as a way to avoid FBMdeliverability issues altogether. Whilethat would certainly work, it seems example oflike an overreaction given the minute a subscribernumber of current FBM users. opt-in screenOne suggestion that could makesense in the long run, however, isto make it easy for subscribersto opt-in to your messagingthrough your facebook page.(Crocs and Digital Evolution Groupdo a great job with this on the CrocsFacebook page—see example atright.) Interaction through Facebookseems a likely path to having yourmessages delivered to the Messagesfolder in the future, although this isn’tcurrently the case. 9
  9. 9. exacttarget snapshot: Facebook Messages www.ExactTarget.com eMAiL DesigN & reNDeriNg As part of its dedication to simplicity, Facebook Messages has done some unexpected things in terms of email design and rendering. When a user clicks to open a message in FBM, their initial view of the message does not include images or links. If the message was sent with a text version, FBM will initially display approximately the last 40 lines of the text-only message. If no text version was included, the user will see a scraped version of the HMTL code.Here’s what esubscribers se when they open your message. 10
  10. 10. exacttarget snapshot: Facebook Messages www.ExactTarget.comTo view the full email message, the user must click “Expand” (in the upper right corner of the message),which opens the full message in a new window. Rendering in the expanded view was quite reliable in ourtests—even for messages up to 900 pixels wide.In terms of links, we saw some messages functioning correctly in the expanded view, while others hadproblems. For consistently clickable links, the user must click “View As A Web Page.” ” view The “expanded Links shows images. ve, but should be acti sistent this was incon in our tests. 11
  11. 11. exacttarget snapshot: Facebook Messages www.ExactTarget.comIn summary, it’s a multi-step process to view a fully-functional email in FBM: • First the user must click on the message thread from a given sender • Then they must locate the current message, which may be at the bottom of the thread • A plain text or HTML version of the message is displayed • The user must click “Expand” to view a full version of the message with images • To activate links consistently, the user must click “View As A Web Page”While this is only three clicks from the Messages folder to the full HTML version, FBM’s current functionalitystill makes it somewhat more complicated than the average email client. “OUr ADViCe… FBM is designed to encourage simple, plain text messaging.While the system has the capacity to view HTML email, the interface clearly Facebookhasn’t been engineered with this style of interaction in mind. In truth, FBM is Messages is more of an ”more of an email reader than an email client. email reader than an email client.But this doesn’t have to be a problem.A multi-channel approach is essential to your interactive marketing program—but that doesn’t mean you sendthe same message across every channel. You wouldn’t compose a Tweet and then spend hours optimizing itfor use on your Facebook wall… The same holds true for email and FBM.Consider this: If you have subscribers who are so firmly entrenched in Facebook that they’ve made FBM theirprimary email address, you should probably be communicating with them primarily through facebookstatus updates and wall posts—not FBM! Email is likely not the channel of choice for those consumers, sodon’t waste time and resources optimizing your email program to work with FBM. Engage them on their ownturf, and capitalize on the unique strengths of Facebook to reach that segment of your audience.At a more tactical level, there are some simple things you can do to improve the user experience alwaysfor FBM subscribers. First and foremost, make sure you send messages in multi-part mime. Our advice: essages inExactTarget has always recommended including a text version with your HTML messages, and this send your m IME.becomes even more important in FBM. You spend hours building an email; why not spend a few extra multi-part Mminutes creating a text version? 12
  12. 12. exacttarget snapshot: Facebook Messages www.ExactTarget.com “Keep the limitations of FBM in mind as you build plain text messages.Subscribers will see only the bottom 40 lines of your message, so keep your Facebook has madecontent under 40 lines (approximately 50 characters per line) to avoid scrolling. it clear from the start that Facebook Messages is notAnd finally, remember that at this point in time, the FBM audience is far too ” intended to be a full-blownsmall to warrant significant re-work of your email communications. Even if email client.FBM’s adoption rate over its first three years were to double that of Gmail, itwould still have no more than about 30 million users—less than 1% of the 3.8billion email accounts projected by 2014.* But like everything else, you need to look at this from a cost-benefitperspective. Continue to monitor your subscriber list and be ready to adjust your strategy if facebook.comaddresses become a sizeable part of your subscriber base.CONCLUsiONWhile Facebook Messages may be an exciting new channel for casual, interpersonal communication, itsusefulness as an email platform is clearly limited. But that shouldn’t come as a surprise—Facebook has madeit clear from the start that it’s not intended to be a full-blown email client.Consider the fact that a user must have an external email address in order to sign up for Facebook and itbecomes clear that—at the present time—facebook does not anticipate fbm becoming the primary Rememberemail platform for most users. This position is clearly supported in this quote from Mark Zuckerberg at a quiresNovember press conference announcing the FBM launch: Facebook re il ema an external rder to“It’s true people are going to be able to have facebook.com email addresses, but this is not email. Email is one way people address in o unt! get an accoare going to use this system, but we don’t even think it’s going to be the primary way.” —Mark Zuckerberg, as quoted inthe Daily Mail, November 16, 2010Instead, Facebook seems to be focused on the idea of real-time communication—a trait that frankly isn’t veryimportant for email. In fact, one of the strengths of email is that it typically doesn’t require an immediate viewand response. You send an email, and the recipient may or may not open it right away—which is fine, becausethere’s no expectation of an instant reply. In this way, email is far less intrusive than other channels—one of thekey reasons it’s been such a successful platform for marketing messages.This focus on real-time seems to be solidified with the March 1, 2011, announcement that Facebook hasacquired Beluga, a standout in the quickly-developing field of group messaging. While it’s not yet clear whatplans Facebook might have for this acquisition, it seems likely that group texting functionality could soonbe added to fbm.*Source: The Radicati Group, Inc. release: “Email Statistics Report 2010-2014,” April 19, 2010 13
  13. 13. exacttarget snapshot: Facebook Messages www.ExactTarget.com As we see it, there are three possible paths that FBM could follow; fbm remains essentially as it is today and fulfills Mark Zuckerberg stated 1 expectations—a casual, personal messaging platform that includes email as one component. In this scenario, FBM remains largely unsuitable for dynamic, visually intensive messaging such as marketing emails—and remains a secondary messaging resource for most consumers. 2 fbm develops additional functionality and becomes a more robust messaging platform. In this scenario, FBM could draw a significant number of users away from Yahoo, Hotmail, Gmail, and other emails clients, and may even be viable as a primary messaging resource for some—particularly the younger users who rely heavily on text messaging and social media to communicate. But as these younger users mature, their needs may also mature. Facebook could be forced to develop a fully functional email platform or risk continual loss of users as they “outgrow” FBM’s capabilities. fbm has a brief moment in the sun, and then quickly fades away, unsuitable for 3 the robust, complex messaging that consumers have come to rely upon. (Remember Google Wave?) We suspect that, at the moment, Facebook may be trying to be too many things to too many people—cramming email, texts, and chat into an interface that wasn’t built to support them. We all compartmentalize our communications, and our communication style varies by channel. If users can’t find their “voice” on FBM, it could end up being nothing more than a footnote in the history of the social media giant. “ With all of that said, history shows that Facebook is constantly changing. The messaging platform of today may bear little resemblance to what’s available Consumers think hese reports six months down the road. And while there’s no denying Facebook’s growthCheck out t , and ability to innovate, consumers will only tolerate so much change of Facebook as primarily fo on Email ”for great in before becoming frustrated. Facebook needs to consider its users’ needs a personal channel, not a nd Twitter: marketing channel. Facebook, a and provide easy-to-use interfaces and appropriate user support as it adds et.com/sff ww.exacttarg functionality. Otherwise features like Messages, Group Texting, and whatever w comes next will have a hard time reaching their significant potential. Another important point to remember—consumers think of Facebook as primarily a personal channel, not a marketing channel. As we discussed in SUBSCRIBERS, FANS, & FOLLOWERS #8: The Social Break- Up, only 43% of U.S. online consumers have “liked” at least one company on Facebook, out of the nearly 14
  14. 14. exacttarget snapshot: Facebook Messages www.ExactTarget.comthree-quarters of U.S. online consumers who’ve created a Facebook profile. This ambivalence towardmarketing is likely to apply to FBM as well, as we anticipate consumers will view FBM as an extension ofFacebook rather than just another email address—regardless of any functionality that might be added toFBM in the future.For now, FBM is just one small cog in the giant interactive machine, and you should treat it as one smallpart of your overall interactive marketing strategy. Our overarching advice is to deal with the here and now,and don’t spend too much time worrying about the future impact of FBM. Instead, stay vigilant, be awareof new developments, and respond as needed—without overreacting.We’ll do the same. We’re keeping a watchful eye on FBM, and we’ll provide updated guidance as new !developments emerge. Don’t panic ur back. We’ve got yo Want more information about how consumers interact with brands through Email, Facebook, and Twitter? Download the entire SUBSCRIBERS, FANS, & FOLLOWERS research series at www.exacttarget.com/sff. 15
  15. 15. Consumers don’t isolate channels.Why should you?ExactTarget’s Interactive Marketing Hub™ is the only tool that gives you a single view of real-timeconversations across Email, Mobile, Social, and Sites.With CoTweet available in the Interactive Marketing Hub—and integrated seamlessly with Facebook—you can monitor and track conversations about your brand in one combined stream. From schedulingFacebook and Twitter updates to making assignments for real-time responses, integrating your emailand social strategy has never been easier.Visit www.exacttarget.com/hubto learn more and register for a LiVe DemO!This document may not be copied without the prior written consent of ExactTarget. © 2010 ExactTarget.