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In its quest to drum up new sources of revenue, social network giant Facebook is currently testing a paid messages program that will enable users to reach out to those outside their network of friends for a fee of $1 per message. Although the service is early in the testing phase, it holds potential to alter the messaging function for both brands and consumers alike.
According to a December study by AYTM Market Research, 26% of surveyed US Facebook users reported sending and receiving messages often. Moreover, 35% said they sometimes used the messaging feature. The survey showed that only 13% of users never used the service.
Facebook is currently only testing paid messages for individuals, but should the program take off, it is likely that brand marketers will want in on the action. The pay option lets a user pay $1 via credit card to send a message to a Facebook user outside of his or her friend base. AYTM surveyed Facebook users about this capability and found the vast majority in opposition—90% of users said they would definitely not pay $1 to send messages to users outside their network. Brands might be less opposed to the option, however.
To date, social media marketers have not relied much on the message function to interact with Facebook users. Messages work differently for brand pages than they do for individual Facebook users. Brands are able to respond to a user’s wall post on their page via a personal message. They are also able to respond to an individual’s private message, but they aren’t able to message users of their own accord.
Data from the Relevancy Group indicated that in April 2012, 46% of US marketers reportedly used Facebook messaging as a marketing tactic. However, when looking toward the next 12 months, only 19% said they planned to continue using Facebook private messages.
When announcing its experiment with paid messages, Facebook stated that changes to communication tools are actually designed to bring more relevant messages to a user’s inbox. Facebook also recently added inbox filters so users can choose who they receive messages from and cut down on unwanted spam.
If Facebook’s experiments with paid messages are successful and they result in increased consumer usage of the messaging function, it’s likely marketer demand for a similar paid function will grow. Now that marketers can pay to appear on a user’s newsfeed, the ability to send relevant and targeted private messages to likers of their brand—rather than simply respond to user posts or messages—may soon be on the horizon.
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