Facebook is expanding the ways brands can interact with consumers over messaging with new sponsored messages, but is it a step too far over the boundary between brand and consumer?
That is the question as Facebook rolls out the ability for brands whom consumers have previously messaged with to message those consumers again, without the customer requesting it. For some brands, this may seem like a boon in helping them connect with their audience but some consumers may see the unprovoked message as an annoyance rather than an opportunity.
"With Facebook opening up the ability for advertisers to talk to their consumers through messenger, some might say that Facebook could be overstepping the bounds of comfort in the relationship between consumer and brands; but, if advertisers will remember when they were first allowed (by consumers) to enter the privacy of the SMS world as long as they adhered to the rules, set by the consumers, then they would be allowed (very cautiously of course) to play in this private sandbox," said Marci Troutman, CEO of SiteMinis. "Advertisers need to be extremely cognizant of this space being a private space, and if need be re-read the painful history of SMS invading their consumers private space, if they are careful though, this can be a profitable engagement.
"Today's consumers will let brands in their private world as long as the messaging is relevant and they listen to what the consumers request."
Facebook Messenger has become a powerful platform for brands in recent months as younger consumers gravitate towards mobile messaging platforms more than any other mobile service.
In doing so, those young consumers have created a space for savvy brands to connect with them in a novel way – through the use of messaging platforms.
Facebook has done much to make its Messenger application a platform that is friendly to brands that want to connect with those consumers. In recent months, the social media giant has helped many brands roll out chatbot services that let consumers make purchases, search for products, find deals and any other service that could previously only be completed through a mobile Web site or an app.
Now, Facebook is making its Messenger platform even friendlier to brands by giving them extended control over when and to whom they send their messages.
Until now, brands were expected to send messages to consumers over Messenger only when they had received an initiating message from the customer. Once they had, that gave them the go-ahead to begin conversing with the consumer.
Once the interaction was done, it was understood that no further messages were to be received unless the customer initiated another conversation.
After the latest update to Messenger, those rules no longer hold sway. The initial interaction must be started by the consumer, but once a customer has had any sort of engagement with a brand, that brand is now free to send them sponsored messages – essentially ads – through Facebook Messenger, anytime.
That level of freedom may be concerning to some, as an uninvited message from a brand into a consumer’s personal messaging space could be seen as an unwelcome engagement.
One of the biggest advantages of messaging as a platform is that consumers think of it as a space that they own. They only see messages from brands if they ask for it, giving them control over what they see in their feed.
That level of control, while ceding only slightly in favor of the brand, could undermine the purity of messaging as a platform.
While Facebook insists that consumers will be able to block brands whose messages they find unwelcome, this too could prove an ineffective measure for both customer and brand.
For example, if a consumer has a positive consensual interaction with a brand, but later receives unwanted ads, they will block a brand that they might otherwise have messaged with further.
Brands will have to weigh the value and liability of unprompted messages before they start using them. Is it worth potentially alienating a consumer for the chance at a spontaneous interaction?
"The potential benefits of this is the brands developing deeper one on one relationships with their consumers. Facebook is uniquely positioned to help brands in understanding the consumers desires," Ms. Troutman said.
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