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Facebook Messenger Broadcast: A hole in the head for social’s GDPR challenge?

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In late November, Facebook confirmed to the media that it’s confidentially testing a platform called Messenger Broadcast that would allow brands to send mass communications through Messenger to its purported 1.3 billion monthly users.

Whilst reach is of course a very attractive figure for Facebook, there are several factors which marketers within SMEs must consider before investing 2018 budgets.

With GDPR edging closer, Mailjet commissioned a piece of research in 2017 to evaluate the main communication updates in development among social media and digital marketing providers and discovered that just two per cent of consumers want to use chatbots to communicate with brands.

Whilst some commentators would argue that Facebook has struggled to drive adoption of Messenger bots among users, since launching the functionality in 2016 they have made great progress in this space. Messenger has augmented bots with group chat capabilities, begun suggesting them through its AI assistant M and built a bot discovery section into Messenger.

However differing to a bot, this latest innovation called Messenger Broadcast would allow businesses to send out messages without being asked a question first — though only to users that have initiated a conversation with the company in the past. Therefore, access for brands remains entrenched in earning the consent of users before engaging with them via Messenger Broadcast.

A global predicament

Soon social media will be thrust into the world of “opt-in” marketing under GDPR, therefore brands will have to ensure 100 per cent consent from consumers if they wish to communicate with them at all through these channels.

While Instagram Stories, Snap Ads and Pinterest Pins have all seen brands move into the social space smoothly, these platforms have never had to secure such concrete permission from users.

Some social media companies will struggle to become compliant in a way that earns consent, however. When questioned about major updates in brand communications through social channels, 35 per cent of people responded saying they haven’t noticed a single one. In fact, only six percent of consumers had noticed Instagram’s “buy button” and the platform’s Explore page updates.

It has never been clearer that whilst these channels are innovating, the day-to-day experience is not changing enough for users to take note. For social platforms to win consent, they need to evolve to suit the everyday needs of consumers, in-turn ensuring success for the brands who utilise their channels.

Where brands are missing a trick

In the UK, a quarter of respondents to the Mailjet study noted that one of their biggest pain points is when brand communication isn’t personalised to them. It is not good enough that, in 2018, brands are still delivering irrelevant messages to consumers.

There is still much work to be done in terms of getting tailored content right, and for brands considering Messenger Broadcast, remember consent is not a one-time thing.

British consumers appreciate a direct approach, favouring brand communication that focuses on the actual product (56 per cent) rather than wider values or features. According to Chris Pook, CRM director, shopping site Lyst: “Personalisation isn’t something the modern shopper is daunted by anymore.

“Consumers are calling for brands to use technology in ways that make their experiences more relevant. Increasingly we will see brands building saliency through personalised design elements that are guided by behavioural data insights.”

So while brands sending messages via Messenger are compliant through OAuth 2.0 (industry standard enabling platforms to have access to users’ data), Facebook will need to be mindful that they are not coming across as “spammy” and keep the experience unified through responsive design and personalisation techniques.

Tips from direct marketing

When putting on a future gazing cap, the growing dependency on social media, teamed with the flexibility of today’s users, means we’re not far from seeing the traditional inbox transformed by the likes of Messenger Broadcast.

“Importantly, while social is still learning, we should expect channels can learn from one another. As a steadily evolving format which consumers are acclimatised to, there’s a lot the giants of the social realm can learn from email as it continues to innovate and mature,” pointed out Pook.

A channel that has responded to the way consumers use websites is email. Mailjet also discovered that nearly a third of people (30 per cent) are also looking for the ability to shop or checkout directly within an email to make the experience easier. In 2018 our inboxes couldn’t get any more shop-able, filled with interactive content with microsite style layouts.

Social media has a lot to learn from email, it needs to keep up with consumer behaviour and often this will mean testing new techniques and technology that empowers this. Some 37 per cent of respondents want to see brands communicate with them using videos of products, rather than bots.

This is most important for the younger audience; 52 per cent of 16-29 years olds want to see video content compared to just 21 per cent of over 60s. Similarly, 24 per cent of the 16-29 age group want to see brands using interactive ads compared to 12 per cent of 45-59 year olds and just eight per cent of over 60s.

Best practices for the year ahead

As it is still in the early days and only being privately tested, Facebook’s new Messenger Broadcast might never make its way into the public domain. However, this announcement offers a glimpse at what the company is working on that might potentially see a wide release in the future. It appears that messages composed via Messenger Broadcast contain the following elements:

  • A welcome message
  • The main message, which can be image and text, video and text or text-only. (The recommended image size is 1,200 pixels by 628 pixels)
  • A message title
  • A message subtitle
  • A call to action in the form of a suggested reply

Whilst it might seem a little old fashioned to the everyday marketer, it is best practice for a brand to hold back slightly on social channels rather than being too pushy. Acting natural, until the user has shared their interest is the best way to spark a two-way exchange between brand and consumer, allowing the user to respond with the info they want to view more on the subject.

If Facebook, namely Messenger Broadcast in this instance, wants to keep growing it has to take a long hard look at what really engages consumers. All social channels must continue to imitate the best features of its competitors while innovating where it has natural advantages. A mutual conversation will be a brand’s safest bet in a post-GDPR world.

This rule not only means a significant reduction in unwanted spam, but it also highlights the fact that younger generations, responsible for the future consumer, want digestible, snappy content at times suited to them.

Judy Boniface, chief marketing officer at Mailjet


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