Q&A: Vetting Facebook's Social Inbox

Reggie Bradford

When Facebook in November confirmed widespread speculation by announcing a new email service, CEO Mark Zuckerberg presented email as just one part of a broader messaging platform that also embraced SMS, instant messaging and chat. Through a unified "social inbox," users can get messages through the various channels in one place. Those from friends and family will receive priority; everything else will go into an "other" folder. So does that mean marketers are left out in the cold? To answer that and other questions about Facebook's messaging upgrade, we turned to Reggie Bradford, CEO of social media marketing firm Vitrue, who spoke with MediaPost's Mark Walsh.

What's the benefit, if any, of Facebook's upgraded messaging platform for marketers?
Although I don't see a direct benefit for marketers with the platform in its current state, I do think it is important for marketers to understand what implications this offering may have on marketing message communications. As the benefit of Facebook email is still unclear for marketers, for now they should continue to focus on the News Feed as this continues to be the most effective application to reach out and engage with target audiences on Facebook.

So brands should focus on having their Facebook Page updates appear in the News Feed rather than trying to crack a user's inbox?
Yes, this announcement validates for marketers that Facebook is where they need to be. This social network is the center of communications for over 500 million people worldwide. According to comScore, Facebook accounts for almost one-fourth of page views and 10 percent of Internet visits. The social network giant also leads in online engagement time.

Does the ability for Facebook users to have email addresses open the door to email marketers? Does the fact that the system prioritizes messages from friends limit that opportunity?
Long term, this email service presents a potentially enormous opportunity for marketers, but the current version of Facebook email does limit the prospect for email marketers. In the near term, email marketers may need to de-prioritize emails in their database, as they may not be as relevant as users of other email services given the friends' prioritization in the current Facebook offering.

Some observers have likened Facebook's new unified message service to the ill-fated Google Wave product. Could the Facebook effort also prove a dud?
If anyone has a chance of succeeding at how people communicate in a social environment, it's Facebook. With over four billion messages sent daily on Facebook, it is obvious that there is existing demand. Not to mention that Facebook historically has had an incredible success rate when it comes to being the conduit of multiple messaging services. The question for marketers is, as the Facebook email service evolves, how will it extend to brands?

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