World

December 24, 2012

Facebook Opens Messaging Dollar Store

Facebook's latest monetization effort involves charging users a dollar to send a message to someone who isn't on their friends list.

"Facebook users historically react strongly to big changes, then get used to it and move on." said Ian Lurie, CEO of Portent. "At $1 per recipient, it's unlikely anyone will exploit this system to send spam on a massive scale."

Facebook announced Thursday that it is testing a system that will let users send prioritized messages to people who aren't among their contacts by paying US$1. The initial test, part of an effort to monetize its user base, involves a small group of people.

Currently, any messages Facebook members send to non-contacts go into a folder labeled "Other." The paid messages in this pilot program will go instead to a user's primary inbox. During this experimental phase, the message routing feature will only be available to individuals within the U.S., and the maximum number of messages that can be routed from the Other folder to the Inbox will be limited to one per week.

Users will still be able to send messages to non-friends, but they will continue to be routed to the Other folder if they're sent unpaid.

"This test appears to be another example of Facebook trying to understand how best to monetize various aspects of its service," Todd Herrold, senior director of product marketing at Kenshoo Social, told TechNewsWorld. "Given Facebook's 1 billion and growing user base and the volume of messages sent via Facebook each day, if just a small percentage of users pay to send messages, the revenue potential is great."

Will Users Use It?

Whether or not users will want to pay to send messages to other users remains to be seen, however.

"I suspect [Facebook users will] be really unhappy in the near term, but Facebook users historically react strongly to big changes, then get used to it and move on." Ian Lurie, founder and CEO of Portent, told TechNewsWorld. "At $1 per recipient, it's unlikely anyone will exploit this system to send spam on a massive scale."

Those on the receiving end of the messages, in fact, might or might not want to receive them.

"User reaction to receiving paid messages in their inbox is likely to be mixed," said Herrold. "As usual with paid messages, advertising or otherwise, users tend to react negatively to what they perceive as spam. If the message is timely and relevant, the user will more likely find it useful, interesting or otherwise valuable, and will most likely react favorably. Facebook will need to strike a very delicate balance in this regard."

On the other hand, some users might be happy with the policy, since it could mean fewer messages from people they don't know.

"Users will feel that they are less likely to be contacted by people outside of their network if there's a cost associated with doing so, and [that] could provide them with peace of mind that their friend network is intimate and secure," Jason Weaver, CEO of Shoutlet, told TechNewsWorld. "I think they will be relieved. Most users don't contact folks outside of their network unless it's a friend request, which takes a different route to accomplish, and is free. For users that use Facebook as a platform to keep in touch with friends/family, this will likely have little impact on them."

The move also significantly leaves out companies, organizations, and brands that might consider paying for messaging people who have liked their pages.

"It would seem more a logical step for brands to send individual messages to people who have already liked them," Tammy Kahn Fennell, CEO and co-founder of MarketMeSuite, told TechNewsWorld. "The concern I have with individuals doing it is it goes away from what makes Facebook works -- which is that it's all opt-in."

Privacy Concerns

The new pay-to-send feature could, without proper safety options, also potentially lead to privacy invasion.

"It could be used to breach privacy and engage in stalking behaviors," Jim Young, director of operations with PR Brigade, told TechNewsWorld. "This feels like a way to get around privacy features."

There's no guarantee, indeed, that any given user's identity is genuine, which could lead to the sending of fraudulent messages.

"If Facebook is going to allow users to contact people who aren't their friends, it can open up the door for people to rip people off," Dan Smith, CEO and founder of Smith Publicity, told TechNewsWorld. "Social media is the wild west -- anyone can put up anything up there."

Like many of Facebook's changes, this one needs to be tested and fine-tuned to see if it will work or not.

"I don't think this is going to cause a mass exodus, but it is a reminder that destination sites like Facebook really have to be careful with how they treat their constituencies," Brad Shimmin, principal analyst of collaboration platforms at Current Analysis, told TechNewsWorld. "There are other services out there and other social networks. We're not locked in to Facebook."

Text by TechNewsWorld
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