Is e-mail marketing dead?
Facebook's new messaging system won't affect agents who have a complete digital marketing system
By Tim Sawyer
A crowded room full of reporters, bloggers, and tech engineers assembled in early November 2010 in Palo Alto, California, for what was said to be the next Facebook bombshell: The Web's most dominant social network released information about Facebook deals that will allow local businesses to create coupon-like rewards for those who check in to their location via a mobile device.
There was buzz in the social world later in November that Facebook was competing with long-time said-to-be rival, Google. With Facebook now being one of the largest search engines on the Web, many are questioning if the network is trying to compete for the number one spot and be crowned the face of the Internet.
At an event in San Francisco, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg greeted the crowd and quickly jumped into the presentation announcing the new Facebook messaging system. The old template allowed Facebook users to exchange messages with people in a private manner, threading the conversation for each new message created. During the November 15 presentation, the social giant announced that Facebook messages will now be a "modern messaging system." The new template and use of Facebook messages is said to have integrated the three most common forms of communication: e-mail, text messaging and, of course, Facebook.
Bridging the generational gap
Facebook developer Ben Parr presented a widely received example explaining how a unified communication platform would ease generational gaps. He spoke of his grandmother, who is only comfortable with e-mail, and his younger brother, who is just starting high school and solely uses text messaging as his main form of communication. How can we simplify this need for numerous applications?
I can attest to the fact that opening different windows and logging in and out of accounts all day can certainly be a hassle. So what if all trending mediums could be found in one comprehensive place? That is the question Facebook set out to answer a year ago. It returned with its answer in late 2010.
The new messaging system will consist of three parts: creating a hub for communication, archiving conversations, and prioritizing which messages are seen. So how does this work? It's surprisingly simple and user friendly. The new message platform on Facebook is dependent upon all Facebook users having an @facebook.com e-mail address. I was startled at first—was Facebook attempting to become an e-mail host? However, it's not what it seems. Users can create an address at @facebook.com, but those who are uninterested can simply go on using the network as they see fit.
Real time communication
All users who choose to gain access to their @facebook.com e-mail account will be granted a handle related to their Facebook username. From any e-mail account you will now be able to send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, and the message will pop up as a chat window. "Communication in real time," said Zuckerberg.
This new age of e-mail is the instant impersonal contact, simply known to most generations as the "instant message." You will be able to respond back to each e-mail, right then and there. "This allows everyone to communicate with the rest of us," said Parr. Now your grandmother can e-mail you directly on Facebook!
The mobile age
So how is text messaging incorporated? If you receive a new Facebook message and have the Facebook application on your smartphone, you will be notified. We have now reached complete mobile freedom to communicate how we please on the go. If you're in your car, anyone can reach you via e-mail through Facebook to your smartphone. And better yet, you can respond within seconds. All of these conversations and interactions through messaging and Facebook as a whole are now threaded and archived in your Facebook inbox.
If you're contemplating running straight to your computer to delete your Facebook account, wait one minute—this is all user controlled and has separate privacy settings. Anything you do not want archived will not be, but for those who tend to be forgetful, this unique attribute could save you when information might need to be recalled.
A need to prioritize
Parr posed the question: "How many times do you see an e-mail from your mom squished between a bill and spam?" For some of you, a light bulb just went off in your head referencing the Gmail "priority inbox." It's close to the same idea: Facebook decides and prioritizes for you based on whom you converse with most. It's a social superpower which now identifies your "top" priorities. Of course Facebook allows you some control; you can add your personal decisions as well.
Many were quick to jump to conclusions, saying that e-mail is dead the same way many rumored that search engine optimization (SEO) was dead when Google Instant was released. Mark Zuckerberg will be the first to let you know that this new initiative is not a Gmail killer. He claims Facebook had no intention of creating a new messaging platform to compete with and weed out traditional e-mail. This is simply something to make it easier for everyone to communicate—those on social networking sites, and those who are not.
Putting the pieces together
E-mail marketing is not dead. Those "blast" e-mails that are sent out to notify clients of a new product you're offering, reminding them of daylight saving time, and offering winterization tips to your auto policyholders will still be important.
So will the "seamless messaging" strategy compete with Gmail? The @facebook.com address is simply a way of communicating for those not on Facebook, along with threading conversations together. Facebook will not act as an entire e-mail platform as speculation was growing before the November official announcement.
What does this mean for businesses? More important, what does this mean for your insurance agency? The most successful e-agents in the country have discovered that it is not about e-mail marketing, social network marketing, blogging, or any other electronic medium. It's about having a complete digital marketing system designed specifically to help you find, sell, and keep more customers by profitably utilizing the Internet. When you have a system, people, and processes in place, you can't help but write more business, serve your customers better, and have more fun in the process!
Tim Sawyer is president of Astonish Results, a digital marketing firm based in Rhode Island. He has trained hundreds of insurance professionals in every aspect of the business with a focus on leadership, digital marketing, and best sales practices.