Facebook Email: How Paid Inbox Placement Changes Email and Social Marketing

The world was abuzz when Facebook was rumored to offer email. The social inbox would revolutionize the world as we knew it. Deliverability would be a thing in the past, and email marketers would have more data to target and be relevant. It was widely predicted over two years ago that Gmail would be “toast”, and the younger generations would never need to leave Facebook.

Today paints a different picture. Not only is Gmail still around, but it’s the number one webmail service in the world, easily topping Microsoft’s Hotmail service for dominance. In fact, Facebook email never really took off. When looking at the numbers from Return Path's latest mobile email study, there were 0 opens from a Facebook email address. Zero. Zero doesn’t mean no one is using Facebook email. It just means no one is using it for non-Facebook messaging, like marketing emails, newsletters, business transactions, and notifications.

Even if users are signing up for these emails, the lack of opened email is likely due to Facebook placing emails into one of two folders: one for Facebook friends and friends of friends, and another folder for everything else. Facebook users do not receive notification of email that lands in the “other” folder, and therefore likely never check it.

Facebook launched a new program to change this. Email marketers can now pay a delivery fee of $1 to have their messages bypass the “other” folder and land in the inbox, which likely will notify the user and increase opens. Facebook will also let paid messages bypass all personal settings, as well. The theory goes that marketers will only pay per email if the message is highly relevant. It’s also believed it should deter spam given the high barrier of entry.

Facebook is smart for doing this. Facebook ads have currently provided little ROI to most companies. GM stopped using Facebook in May, seeing little return on investment (with Ford chiding GM that they were only doing it wrong). In our last Email Intelligence Report, we have a graph showing just how stark a difference there with email and social results. For every dollar spent on email, marketers receive $40.56 back, compared to only $12.71 for social. According to a recent Strongmail report, marketers also plan to increase email budgets in 2013, with 65% of marketers also integrating email marketing with social media, and with most citing Facebook as the most valuable social channel.

ROI per Dollar Spent, 2011

It's the perfect time for Facebook to offer this program considering email's high ROI, an increase in email marketing budgets and plans to better integrate social and email channels.  Will 2013 be the year of truly integrated email and social campaigns? And will Facebook users be happy about the intrusion?