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Facebook’s Titanic shift for marketers

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Facebook’s Titanic shift for marketers

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I’m going to assume every marketer has given some thought to how they can use Facebook. With close to 10million Australian users, I would hope that is a safe bet. In most cases this has resulted in company or brand pages and campaigns centred on acquiring as many fans as possible.

As of today, marketers now have a new Facebook conundrum to consider. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has just unveiled Facebook’s social messaging service, codenamed Project Titan, which will give the social network’s 500 million users the ability to have an @facebook email address and a consolidated inbox with some interesting features, including:

• Segmented inbox – messages will be split into three categories: friends, others and junk
• Consolidated inbox – addressing the younger generation’s gravitation towards SMS and Instant Messaging, the inbox will consolidate all three forms of message into one inbox
• Social inbox – forwarding, sharing, posting becomes easier

Facebook is quick to point out that this is “not email”, nor is it an “email killer”. However, for Australian marketers, who are sending billions of emails to their customers every year, this creates both opportunity and threat.

First the good news…

Permission has been the centre-piece of professional email programs for years. Not only is it illegal under the SPAM Act to send unsolicited emails, it is also damaging to the brand and its relationship with its customers. On the assumption that a good proportion of Facebook users will take up the opportunity to have a Facebook email, there is now another pressing reason to have express permission – if you don’t have it, your message simply won’t make it into the inbox. This is the first large-scale purely white-list email platform we have seen.

If a person ‘fans’ your page, your emails will be delivered as if they were from a friend (and isn’t that exactly what marketers want to be!). Many forward-looking marketers have already gathered that ‘fan-based’ permission and will be stepping up their programs to acquire fans. If you haven’t, now is the time to do so.

No one, not even Mr Zuckerberg himself, expects every Facebook user will be logging on at lunchtime and deleting their Gmail or Hotmail account. In fact, in a poll on the unofficial Facebook site All Facebook, most people said they would not ditch their email address, and around 30% of respondents said they would use both Gmail and Facebook (although 15% did say they would drop Gmail). 

However, as Facebook rolls out its service we are likely to see a lot of people, younger people in particular, who already have considerably lower than usual email usage, migrating over to Facebook as their primary inbox. So even though they may not delete their existing email address, they will check it less and less frequently.
Marketers will need to act fast to ‘re-permission’ their customer base to give them the opportunity to update and amend their preferences and details, including adding their Facebook email address. 

And now the great news...

The sociability of the Facebook messaging service creates significant opportunities for marketers. Whereas share with your network (SWYN) and ‘post to Facebook’ have started to become popular among email marketers, this takes it to a whole new level. It will be much easier for any message you send to a fan to be forwarded on to their friends, and many pundits believe we will see a considerable increase in social sharing of marketing content.

But there is a cloud to the silver lining.

In some cases the impact will be hard to recognise. Declining open rates, for example, could be a sign that some members of the database have moved onto Facebook email and haven’t told you. These customers could be lost unless you act relatively fast and incentivise them to give you their Facebook details.

Privacy also continues to be an issue for Facebook, and already many within the digital community are concerned about the company owning and archiving your entire inbox of emails, SMS’ and IM messages. The same was said about Google with Gmail though and certainly they have not suffered.

The issue for marketers may be that while people are happy to sign up to email newsletters, offers and promotions when only they and the company know about it, Facebook is pushing them to declare their preferences publicly. While I may happily exercise my interest in women’s shoes through my subscription to onlineshoes.com, I may not wish to ‘fan’ them publicly.

Marketers will need to watch closely how Project Titan evolves, and, in particular, consider how to gain and retain permission to send messages directly. 

There is no question social networking is having a major impact on how brands communicate with their customers. At EservicesResponsys, we certainly consider it, along with email, mobile and the web, one of the new power marketing channels. With this latest development, gaining permission from your customers and a real understanding of their preferences becomes even more critical. As always, savvy marketers will seize the opportunities.

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