January 12, 2013
Facebook Is Attempting To Monetize The Inbox
Alan McStravick for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
There was a lot buzz today about how the site Mashable.com´s Chris Tayler broke the story that it would cost you a cool $100 if you wanted to put a message into Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg´s inbox, rather than having it sent to the less recognizable and oft-forgotten “other” box.Apparently, Facebook has been testing this new pay-to-message model since last year. The goal of the program is to lessen the amount of spam messages that are sent by putting a hurdle, the size of which raises or lowers dependent upon the relative importance of the recipient. Prices have been seen at the $1 mark for persons like you and me, and go up to the exorbitant amount we saw attached to Zuckerberg´s own Facebook account.
Facebook is testing this program to see if they can monetize delivery between users who are not already friends on the site. So, if you are one of the over 16 million users who count Mr. Zuckerberg as a friend, chances are you won´t see the option pop up to throw a little cash money behind your message to possibly attract greater attention from the social media messiah. And if you aren´t a “friend” of Zuckerberg´s, even if you opt for the inbox bribe, there is apparently no guarantee that he will even see or read your message.
Even though Facebook has rolled out this test marketing initiative, it is not universal. Not every user deemed important by the site has had their account set up with the pay-to-message option. That the test is still so limited shows Facebook quite possibly could abandon the effort altogether.
Announcing via blog post, Facebook said, “The test is designed to address situations where neither social nor algorithmic signals are sufficient. For example, if you want to send a message to someone you heard speak at an event but are not friends with, or if you want to message someone about a job opportunity, you can use this feature to reach their inbox.” Facebook went on to claim, “For the receiver, this test allows them to hear from people who have an important message to send them.”
But here is where, to me, the fun part starts. When you establish someone´s VIP importance on the site so their inbox´s become eligible to receive these random, unsolicited messages from someone willing to pay, how do you a) get that person to agree to the manipulation of their inbox; and b) get away with charging the great unwashed unless you are willing to share percentages with those whose inbox´s you are effectively pimping out?
Then, there is the issue of having to deal with VIP user ego. How badly will Susan Sarandon feel when she sees that Selena Gomez is commanding a higher direct-to-inbox fee? Will we see some real Facebook beef starting between celebrities and other high-profile personalities as Zuckerberg attempts to place value on their accounts, and thus, themselves?
But $100 to send a message? A Facebook spokesperson, quoted in The Wall Street Journal, stated, “We are testing some extreme price points to see what works to filter spam.” I have no disagreement with the statement that these price points are, indeed, extreme. Especially when there is no guarantee your money will ensure attention to your message.
One positive side of this new plan I saw was the limit Facebook placed on the number of paid messages a user could send to another non-friend user. So, no matter how many dollars you might have at the ready, you can´t cyber-stalk your favorite author or boy band member more than one time per week.
When they started this program last month, Facebook put out a post explaining the rationale and method for their new pay-to-message model. In it they said, “Today we´re starting a small experiment to test the usefulness of economic signals to determine relevance. This test will give a small number of people the option to pay to have a message routed to the Inbox rather than the Other folder of a recipient they are not connected with.”
Some researchers have offered that by charging the sender to send messages, Facebook may have actually struck upon an effective method of discouraging unwanted messages for some of the higher profile users. Additionally, they believe the fee could be useful in helping to facilitate delivery of messages that are actually relevant to the receiver.
The key for Facebook, if they want to make this new plan work and introduce a viable revenue stream to the free service, is to quickly slow the pendulum swing between $1 and $100 per message, and determine exactly how much their user community would be willing to part with to share their thoughts with someone who isn´t already their friend. But if stories like this continue for much longer, Facebook will have no choice but to abandon the plan altogether and search for other opportunities to slide the dollars out of the pockets of their users.