Facebook private messages for brands

March 16, 2012
Posted by: Jenna Woodul

Brands have long been asking Facebook to allow them to send direct messages to fans. Because Facebook has now provided a way, here’s our perspective, having looked into it in the past week.
How it works
Brands now have the option to install a Message button on their Facebook Pages. A key characteristic of the function is that brands cannot initiate the contact with individual fans; it must be initiated by the fan. The feature does offer a welcome opportunity to deal with customer support issues out of the public eye. However, LiveWorld believes brands should fully consider the benefits and challenges before implementing the new button.
How to enable it
In your Facebook Admin Panel, go to Manage > Edit Page > Manage Permissions. You’ll find a check-box to show the Message button; that’s all it takes.
Where to find messages
The messages from fans show up on the right of your Admin Panel. If the message has multiple responses, you’ll see only a snippet of the last conversation here; click the username to see all the messages in the thread between fan and brand.
Actions available for messages
Besides responding to the fan, you can take these actions:

  • Archive: Removes from view, places into and Archive folder, where it can be recovered.
  • Delete: Deletes the message; it’s no longer recoverable.
  • Report as Spam: Reports user to Facebook, moving the message from queue to Other folder, with admin option to recover later.
  • Report Conversation: Reports to Facebook; does not remove from queue. Note that it provides no options for selecting reasons why admin is reporting the message.
  • Mark As Unread: Changes the status of read messages to unread.

Drawbacks worth considering
Think about these issues before deciding to implement the feature:

  • Remember, only the fan can initiate contact; you can’t reach out first to solve problems.
  • Only the last message displays on your Admin Panel; if you have a lot of volume, issues will be hard to locate among potentially hundreds of posts.
  • Facebook provides no way to organize or tag messages for searching through them later.
  • Moderators can’t mark where they left off in a queue or give messages a status.
  • With considerable volume, it’s a confusing workflow. Messages could be in numerous folders with no indicators that they exist.
  • At this time, no reporting or analytics exist for this feature.
  • API is provided; we’re looking into how to connect to an internal CRM system to track and manage these messages. (Updated 3.16.12 from our original statement that no API exists.)

What we’d like to see changed
This private messaging concept is a good one for lots of reasons: It’s another channel for communication; it affords privacy for situations where that’s appropriate; and users appreciate the ability to contact a brand directly. If we were able to request changes to this feature so that all brands could benefit from it, here are some we’d like to see:

  • Ability set a status designation for each message.
  • Sorting, searching, and organizing mechanisms.
  • Reporting on number of messages received, responses sent, current message status.
  • API accessibility, to allow integration into other tools more suitable for managing and tracking messages. (Update: 3/14/12 – We’ve been told an API is available, and we’re looking into it.)
  • Ability for brands to initiate contact with an individual, providing that the fan has left a message in a comment or on the Wall. (That way, brands can’t spam fans, but can reach someone who has issues but doesn’t know about the private messaging option.)