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Facebook's New Direct Messaging Has Brands Talking

  |  March 2, 2012   |  Comments

Grocery chain offers glowing report of direct messaging consumers on the social site.

Tesco’s Fresh & Easy provides a glimpse into the potential impact that Facebook's new direct messaging system may have on brands' customer care efforts. Nicole DeRuiter, social media manager for the western U.S. grocery chain, and her team have been direct messaging consumers on Facebook for months - by using their personal accounts.

DeRuiter's team identify themselves as Fresh & Easy staffers when reaching out, and she says consumers have been consistently thrilled by the attention. Typically, they ping Facebook users who haven't prohibited such messaging in their privacy settings when they post about a product or retail problem. Her team often asks them if they would like to be called or emailed directly about the issue.

"Some situations call for a more personal approach than what you can do with a wall post reply," she tells ClickZ. "It blows people away when they notice the [Facebook] message is from our brand."

In concerns to the social site's new direct messaging system, DeRuiter said, "I think that's going to be popular. We've never received a response from a consumer saying they thought it was creepy to hear from us."

Brands Need to React to DMs Quickly

Here's how the direct messaging system will work: If a Facebook user sends brands a message, they can answer back - though consumers must initiate the dialogue. Company pages were previously relegated to responding to customer concerns only via wall post responses.

"Brands who take their consumer relationships seriously are already monitoring and responding frequently to fans' comments and questions on Facebook," said Lisa Mabe, founder of Washington, DC-based marketing and PR firm Hewar Communications. "Similarly, consumers will expect brands to acknowledge and get back to them in a timely manner via the new private messages. Brands absolutely must stay on top of their private messages coming in from consumers or else risk turning off or even losing customers."

Bob Kraut, SVP of advertising and marketing communications for Arby's, suggested the direct messages may help firms avert comment threads that spiral out of control, causing bad branding.

"This [will] lower the risk and be better for customers in the long run," he said. "There will be more people in the game, and maybe less transparency. But maybe the customer is fine with that. It's the customer that counts."

Jim McDonald, CIO at The Sharper Image, predicted that brands and consumers would feel the direct messaging system out before massive adoption occurs.

"There is going to be an experimental phase," McDonald said. "What are consumers going to be comfortable with in terms of communicating with brands and retailers? I think it's going to be an evolution and a process in terms of increasingly interacting with folks through [Facebook]."

Yet Another Social CRM Channel - Help or Headache?

Facebook introduced the direct messaging feature among a slew of ad product announcements on Wednesday. With the news, one could almost hear a pack of CRM directors groan, realizing they'll need to add Facebook to phone, email, live chat, Twitter, etc. on their laundry list of channel concerns.

"The problems it's going to create for community management, customer care, and one-to-one responses are going to be relatively significant," said Michael Scissons, CEO of social media marketing company Syncapse. "You think of these large brands and the challenges they've had with simply publishing [on Facebook]. Now they are managing the two-way dialogue in a one-to-one manner. It's going to create a significant amount of work."

Mabe from Hewar Communications shared a similar sentiment. "It is quite possible that many brands will have to train and hire more staff to monitor their pages," she said.

Meanwhile, Mabe credited Facebook for placing limitations on the feature. If the digital giant had allowed firms to send unsolicited messages, she said, "we would no doubt have some ignorant brands spamming consumers and giving the whole direct message experience a bad rep for all of us. The message center should not be about a sales pitch, but rather another platform to address consumers' feedback, thoughts, and ideas."

Zachary Rodgers contributed.

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Christopher Heine

Christopher Heine was a senior writer for ClickZ through June 2012. He covered social media, sports/entertainment marketing, retail, and more. Heine's work has also appeared via Mashable, Brandweek, DM News, MarketingSherpa, and other tech- and ad-centric publications. USA Today, Bloomberg Radio, and The Los Angeles Times have cited him as an expert journalist.

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