Social Media Marketing…Or is it Email Marketing?: The New Facebook Messages


Over at MarketingExperiments’ sister company, we’re accepting entries for MarketingSherpa’s 6th Annual Email Marketing Awards. We’ve added a new category this year: best innovation. I’m really looking forward to seeing the latest ideas marketers have cooked up.

One new tactic we’ve seen this year is the integration of social media and email. And Facebook just launched the mother-of-all mashups between these two channels: Facebook Messages.

Truly Integrated Messaging

Facebook’s launch last week of its new Messages system is a step toward truly integrated communication. The announcement, though, raises many questions for email marketers, particularly since Facebook is offering its over 500 million active users email addresses.

Facebook is slowly rolling out the new features. I don’t have them, for instance (hint, hint Mr. Zuckerberg). Here are the main features we know will soon be available to all users:

1. Seamless messaging — messages will not be listed by date but organized by contact. Conversation history will be stored for extended periods.

2. Integrated messaging — users can integrate their Facebook messages, SMS texts, and email into the new Messages system. All the content sent through these means will be pulled into the seamless conversations mentioned above.

3. Social/Friends inbox — Facebook messages will have two inboxes. One will essentially be for messages from friends, and the “other” folder will be for everyone else.

There are other smaller highlights — such as the elimination of formal subject lines and the ability to have group conversations. Many features are customizable. For example, users can specify that they only want to receive messages from “friends” and “friends of friends.”

Email Marketing Lives On

Facebook messages will not spell “Instant Death” for email marketing. People commonly hold multiple email addresses (I have four), and Facebook’s email compatibility will not spark a mass exodus from Gmail or Hotmail.

Furthermore, healthy percentages of marketers are reporting positive ROIs for email marketing and are unlikely to quit the channel any time soon. Heck — marketers are still sending direct mail.

My prediction is that Facebook’s messaging service will be used primarily for interacting with friends and family — just as Facebook is used today. People will still keep separate email accounts for professional contacts and newsletter subscriptions.

What Is Up with HTML?

Most email marketers should still be wondering whether they’ll be able to reach subscribers who have email addresses. The answer appears to be yes, although you’ll have to fight to get out of the “other” inbox (more on that later).

What is completely unclear — at least to me — is whether Facebook will accept HTML-based emails. All the screenshots and explanations I’ve seen do not address the topic. Also — how would an HTML-based email be converted into an SMS message?

Marketers have many beautiful HTML-based newsletters, and until I see some proof, I have serious doubts that they’ll render well for subscribers.

If this is true — text-based emails may yet again prove to be the tool of choice for easily emailing subscribers across an array of platform (as I mentioned in a mobile email design article yesterday).

Relevancy Remains a Top Priority

Delivering highly relevant email content was the number one challenge reported by email marketers in 2009, according to MarketingSherpa’s 2010 Email Marketing Benchmark Report (2011 Report will be released in a matter of weeks).

Google’s two-tiered Priority Inbox and now Facebook’s two-tiered Social Inbox make relevancy even more important. Emails have to be valuable enough to be consistently opened, clicked and whitelisted or risk falling into the junk heap.

Delivering relevant and valuable information in email marketing goes beyond a best practice — it’s an unwritten law. Facebook’s announcement has underlined this law yet again.

New Multi-channel Opportunities

Facebook members will potentially receive SMS messages based on the emails you send to their addresses. If they want, they can reply to you in a chat tool on Facebook’s website for some real-time one-to-one messaging.

This is an opportunity for email marketing to become a gateway to several different marketing channels, which is both deeply interesting and complicated. Social media marketing managers may have their hands full with chat sessions, and email marketers may have to craft messages that are relevant to mobile audiences.

A good solution might be for marketers to segment email addresses from the rest of their databases for a targeted strategy.

Research and Testing Point the Way

If any of these new features concern or excite you, then it’s time to learn as much about them as possible. Request a Facebook email address, wait it out (its killing me) and start testing how your emails will look. If you have a large Facebook audience, you should start researching how it uses SMS and if your marketing can be relevant there.

Related Resources

MarketingSherpa Email Awards 2011

Facebook Case Study: From 517 to 33,000 fans in two weeks

Social Media Case Study: Facebook plus integrated marketing raise $950,000

2010 Email Award Winner Campaign Updates

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  1. Liz Lynch says

    Hi Adam,
    To answer your question on HTML messages, yes, Facebook does deliver them. However, the initial view of the message is as a text version. The user can click on a link to expand the message, and that’s when they can see the full HTML message.
    You can see the screenshots in my blog post here:


  2. Adam T. Sutton says

    Thank you Liz! This is immensely helpful.

    I’m glad to see that there’s HTML capability — though I think some marketers will have to tweak their designs to get the text-versions right if they want to target @facebook subscribers.

    Also — thank you for clearing up whether email from “liked” companies will be saved from the “other” folder. Unfortunately, it won’t — bummer. But good to know!

  3. Rajesh Vinaykyaa says

    Is it that facebook has been a totally marketing platform rather than the way to make a constant “be in touch” tool.

  4. Adam T. Sutton says

    Hi Jaesh — I think Facebook is still very much a platform for keeping in touch with family and friends. This announcement should help further support that goal. I do not think the announcement was intended to benefit marketers (at least directly), but because such a large percentage of the population is spending an increasing amount of time on the network, marketers should be aware of the changes coming.

  5. Dan at Chiromatrix says


    Great article. My question is: do you think Facebook will eventually overtake Google? It’s really branching out past anything we might have imagined 5 years ago. It actually reminds me of Google in the earlier days, a rapid developing machine who sees what bigger companies are doing and finds a way to do it better.


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