Commentary

Titanic: When Social And Email Collide Into Paid Search

facebook email

When Facebook first introduced the text and small image ads down the right rail, those working in media relations for the social network cringed each time someone called them "paid search," a phrase they insist should be reserved for Google and other search engines. But paid search ads continue to evolve, along with social networks.

Whether or not Facebook launches its new email service on Monday morning, thoughts of how the tool could influence ad targeting on the site intrigued me. After all, Facebook members have a profile, share status updates, post photos and videos and share thoughts with one another on each other's wall. They also play games, "like" brands, send virtual goods and make purchases. They do this all within the confines of Facebook's walled garden.

If launched, Facebook's email service would provide another place where advertisers could market to site members tapping into contact lists, words within the email (similar to Google Gmail), locations, and other social signals with each email exchange.

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In a research published Monday, Piper Jaffray Analyst Gene Munster explains Facebook email would likely attract younger users and become a threat to Google and other email providers in the long term, not immediately. "One significant barrier to entry for new email services is that a user's existing email address is like a phone number, many contacts already possess it and therefore the user risks missing emails if they change addresses," he writes. "As a result, younger Web users in mature Web markets that are just beginning to form their online identities could find the Facebook email platform attractive as more names will be available and they are not invested in another platform."

Munster also believes a Facebook email platform could become popular internationally for a similar reason as new users come online for the first time and eventually get on Facebook. In the long term it could hinder Google's Gmail and Yahoo Mail could have more difficulty attracting new users.

It's not difficult to see how search, social networks and email will combine to provide Internet users with a ubiquitous tool. Research firm Gartner believes not just for leisure, but work, too. I'm not convinced with Gartner's estimates that 20% of employees will use social networks as their business communications' hub by 2014. And I'm interested to hear from those working in corporate America on whether work policies would allow them to communicate through Facebook.

In a recent report, Pierre Khawand, found and CEO of People-OnTheGo, calls Facebook, LinkedIn and other social sites "The New New Inbox," a box connected to the world that's travels with consumers wherever they go at all times. In survey results from a list of multiple choice questions released with the report, participants were asked to name the inboxes they check regularly?" Personal email led the list at 91.7%, followed by corporate email at 89.6%, and Facebook at 58.5%.

In a question intended to measure the amount of time spent on email and social media, 53.2% of survey participants say they spend less than 30 minutes in social media, compared with 5.1% on email. But when it came to longer durations of time, 27.4% note spending up to 1 hour in social media and 20.6% in email, according to the People-OnTheGo study findings.

And, of course, this could explain the public argument between Facebook and Google and why the search engine recently blocked the social network from importing Gmail contact. For now it remains speculation. And even if that's not the announcement slated for this morning's press conference, we might see a similar service from Facebook in the future.

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