Is Facebook Messenger a viable alternative to SMS, email and push notifications?

Many companies use SMS, email and push notifications to deliver updates to customers and stakeholders, and such notifications are especially important to publishers seeking to drive engagement and loyalty among their readers. 

But these methods of making contact often get lost in the digital noise, so some publishers are experimenting with new ways to alert their readers to breaking news and content of interest.

One of those publishers, The Boston Globe, is having early success with Facebook Messenger.

As reported by Digiday, last week the newspaper publisher began offering readers the ability to receive notifications using Facebook’s popular messaging platform, which counts over one billion active monthly users.

The initial results are promising: the open rate for notifications is 80%, 15% of recipients are clicking through to articles, and the opt-out rate is “in the single digits.” Such figures, particularly the open rate, compare quite favorably to notifications delivered through other channels.

According to Matt Karolian, the director of audience engagement at The Boston Globe:

“You can stand on the shoulders of Facebook. It’s affordable to implement, it’s cross-device. People use Facebook a ton. Facebook is across all your devices. You have a lot more targets to hit.”

What’s more, Karolian sees Facebook Messenger notifications as a way to tap into Facebook’s vast audience but to mitigate the risks that News Feed algorithm changes could result in The Boston Globe seeing reduced reach or engagement on the world’s largest social network.

“These are huge parts of Facebook that publishers are not taking full advantage of,” Karolian told Digiday.

A better bet than chatbots?

While The Boston Globe’s Messenger notification initiative is too young to declare a success – it has just a few hundred users right now (“albeit with very little promotion”) – and probably will never fully supplant other messaging systems, it does provide an interesting contrast to the Messenger initiatives of other companies, many of which are focused on chatbots.

Other news publishers, like The Washington Post and CNN, have jumped on the chatbot bandwagon, hoping to create more a interactive and personalized way of interacting with readers, but the user experiences actually delivered by chatbots have been the source of complaints, and occasionally even the butt of jokes.

As one BBC reporter put it, “The CNN news chatbot…is worse at giving you the news than any of CNN’s other products.”

As The Boston Globe’s Karolian sees it, the artificial intelligence technology required to deliver a good experience “isn’t fully there yet,” so his company has sought to avoid the shortcomings by using Messenger simply, and making sure that the notifications it delivers through Messenger promote exclusive, Boston Globe-only content produced by its Spotlight investigative team.

Will that KISS (Keep It Simply Stupid) strategy pay big dividends?

Time will tell, but at the moment, it would appear wise for companies to consider a similar approach when experimenting with Facebook Messenger and platforms like it.

Related reading

Image from Desigual welcome email to new subscribers.
Hand turning a dial with the words white, grey and black list.