In recent months Facebook Inc. has been quietly testing a new revenue-raising feature: paid messaging. So far, the service is aimed at individual users, but b2b marketers have been watching the tests and wondering if paid Facebook messaging would work for them.
This new feature appears to be part of Facebook's mission to develop added ways to raise revenue. Last October, Facebook rolled out its ”paid update” feature that allows users to “promote” a personal post, making it more likely to appear near the top of friends' timelines. That costs $7 a post.
The paid messaging feature is similar—it would allow users to send a message directly to the inbox of someone not in their network, at $1 per message. If the stranger is high-profile, that costs much more. As an example, this month it was reported that Facebook users could send a message to company founder Mark Zuckerberg for $100.
Could this new paid messaging feature be useful to b2b marketers? Jason Miller, social media strategist with marketing automation company Marketo Inc., thinks the chances are slim.
“I don't think there's a role for this type of paid messaging when it comes to b2b marketing,” Miller said. “I view this as paying $1 to annoy a customer or prospect. It's a sure-fire way to paint your company as a spammer that doesn't understand real engagement.”
That said, Miller still called Facebook an effective lead-generation tool, and said, “Facebook boasts the largest user base of any social network, and it's essential that you have a presence there.”
Instead of Facebook paid messaging, Miller singled out LinkedIn Inc.'s InMail as “the place for this type of messaging” for b2b marketers.
Not so fast, said Jeffrey L. Cohen, manager-content marketing at Salesforce Marketing Cloud and co-author of “The B2B Social Media Book” (John Wiley & Sons, 2012).
“There is a role for the Facebook paid-messaging program within the context of b2b social media marketing if it's handled with a content-marketing approach,” Cohen said. “While it is an interruptive method of reaching prospects, b2b companies need to make sure they are providing content that offers value. The messages can't be product-focused; they need to build relationships, which is core to the b2b buying cycle.”
Success will depend in part on ROI, Cohen said. At $1 per message, marketers would need to compare the cost per lead of Facebook messaging to other marketing efforts, especially other Facebook activities.
“If it takes 100 messages to generate one lead, you're paying $100 per lead, not $1,” Cohen said.
Whatever happens, it will likely be a while before paid Facebook messaging is a reality for b2b marketers. Although Facebook itself hasn't commented on its program, news reports suggest that it will be rolled out first for individuals and only later expanded to brand marketers.
“At Marketo, we have had tremendous success with using Facebook to increase the reach of our content and messaging,” Miller said. “In 2013, I think we will start to see b2b marketers embrace Facebook and the power of peer-to-peer recommendations.”