For some time, we have known that in following up with an established contact, an e-mail often does not get a reply, a message through LinkedIn more often does work and a message through Facebook almost always gets a reply. If this seems like an admission of the challenges for us of doing business, we take no shame: this is simply observing how communication trends are changing and the need to keep up with those changes.
Despite Facebook deciding to retire its own @Facebook e-mail service 18 months ago, its Messenger service was always the much more powerful communication tool and grew at an amazing rate after Facebook split Messenger from its core app in 2014 – notice how those dates coincide. With 700 million users worldwide and WhatsApp, which handles over 30 billion messages a day, also now owned by Facebook, who knows what the future holds?
It is a trend which LinkedIn, the assumed home in recent times of all online professional interaction, has been slow to respond to. The LinkedIn messaging format changed in September but the change may well come too late and still be too cumbersome by comparison with the Facebook offering to catch on as well. Here’s where the success of communicating via Facebook lies:
- Access: there is a limit to where users can read and reply to e-mail but very little limit to where they can answer a message through Facebook. Messages can be answered stuck in traffic, on the tube, bus, at your favourite coffee shop, just before a meeting, or whatever. Messages are received, and answered, with more immediacy.
- Informality: E-mail messages have been getting shorter and shorter but, even a brief e-mail still dictates an element of formality in replying – a form of address to the person you are answering and a sign off and signature must sandwich the message. The e-mail will probably sit on record in one way or another – on your company’s server or printed out – and, for that reason alone, dictates more thought. Take those considerations away and the response comes much more quickly and, we see, much more reliably.
- Being Human: it is often said and very true that people buy from people – that relationships sell – and, clearly, Facebook facilitates this far better. An e-mail may be addressed to you personally but you cannot interact with the person at the other end. As Steven Thomson observes in his excellent article on LinkedIn “Emotion sells …. Social Media is all about being human”.
- Tracking: Facebook gives you instant tracking of your message – you know the moment the other person has read your message, even if the reply does not come back quickly and, crucially, the recipient knows it, which adds a greater compulsion to reply. There certainly are e-mail tracking systems, such as Hubspot’s Sidekick and Yesaware, but the recipient of your e-mail is blissfully unaware that you are using them.
- Building Connections: Facebook is a treasure trove of content and contacts. If you have connected with a good number of professional contacts on Facebook of like mind, you will see a near-endless stream of useful and relevant content posted in your newsfeed which, when ‘liked’ by contacts outside your own circle, can lead you to becoming “friends” with them. That content may stimulate exchanges on the post and via Facebook Messenger in a way that would much less often work through e-mail.
The other side of this is, of course, is the rising tide of protest at the loss of face-to-face social interaction as we all spend much more time communicating on our smartphones. The irony of that which is social reducing social interaction.
Facebook is, of course, well aware of the potential power of its platform as a business tool. Facebook at Work – essentially currently a collaborative tool to maintain communication between employees within a workplace is set to launch fully soon with some major companies already signed up to use it, including Heineken and Royal Bank of Scotland. Whilst this is,in effect, an intranet, the potential for development for wider use is undoubtedly foreseen.
Of course, the one rider I have to include here is that Facebook only works for those you can count as Facebook “friends” or can reach as “friends of friends” and this way of getting business done cannot replace e-mail when it comes to establishing new contacts in the first place. Many posts highlight the much higher conversion rate of e-mail marketing as compared to social media marketing – Facebook pages and such. They are not wrong, although the challenge of getting an answer returns whenever your way of communication is by e-mail.
However, once you have established a prospect and got close enough to have them as a Facebook friend, it is our experience that you will convert that prospect to business very much faster with the help of Facebook than with e-mail alone. What is your experience of Facebook versus e-mail ?