Over the past couple of weeks, I have read a lot of articles and email strings about whether Facebook was creating a "Gmail killer." From the first time I heard this, I thought it was interesting that so many people were convinced that Facebook was creating a new email client that would change the face of email marketing forever. Of course, I am not going to deny that there was a lot of evidence that would make people think Facebook was headed this way.
First, Facebook has hired a number of email system experts from various ISPs to be part of its company -- folks from AOL, Gmail, and others. With more than 500 members, Facebook also has the user base that could make it a viable business opportunity for the company. Plus, it wouldn't have to worry about delivery issues of its notifications, because it would control the filtering systems. On the other hand, there was also evidence that it was not going to be the killer email app that everyone predicted -- such as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg saying that the company is not going into the email business.
Why the focus on Gmail?
The announcement of Facebook's new Messages service on Nov. 15 brought some more clarity to the issue. Even during the Facebook announcement, Mark Zuckerberg stated that its new messaging center was not email. While this fact could be debated, it is clear that Facebook is not looking to dominate the email client space.
One of the most interesting aspects of this entire debate has been the focus on Google and its Gmail product. I understand that there is some bad blood between the two companies, but from everything I have seen come out of Facebook, it is not just about beating another company; it is about being the best. So if Facebook did decide to get into the email client business, why would it focus on Gmail, which isn't even the leader in that space? Why weren't people saying that Project Titan (as it was called before Facebook announced it as the Modern Messaging System) was going to be the "Yahoo killer" or the "Hotmail killer"? When looking at most senders' overall customer lists, these two domains are the clear leaders.
Another industry announcement came out just one day before Facebook made its own, but this one was from AOL. The company has just released an update to its email client interface in an effort to bring customers back.
So what do these two events have to do with email marketing and deliverability? Everything.
Facebook Messages and list hygiene
The first thing everyone should be thinking about when looking at these two big announcements from Facebook and AOL is list hygiene. Why? If you think about it, the biggest concern most marketers have about the Facebook announcement is how many people would likely use that new firstname.lastname@example.org domain as their main email address, which could have a significant impact on list churn.
If you are not paying attention to what your users are doing with their email addresses, you will likely end up having deliverability issues when your customers switch to a new email address and close their old ones. Those old email addresses will hurt your unknown user numbers if you don't remove them, and then potentially turn into spam traps that can negatively affect your reputation in a big way.
Focus on engagement
With regard to the AOL announcement, it is all about user engagement. When I first saw the announcement, I logged into my AOL.com account to see what the changes were. When I did this, I realized I had not logged in for at least a year or two, and I had more than 1,500 emails. Of these 1,500 emails, most of them were from only three or four senders that I had never previously engaged with in any way but that were sending me emails on almost a daily basis. As I have mentioned a number of times in the past, every day it is more and more important to focus on engagement of your users, as the ISPs are using engagement metrics when determining where to place your messages -- in the inbox or the bulk folder.
So as always, remember: Paying attention to your users and how, and if, they are engaged with you is key. Make sure to check your database on a regular basis to understand the main domains to which you are sending. And above all, stay on top of the latest industry changes and don't assume just because it is in print that it is real.
Good luck and good sending.
Spencer Kollas is senior director of delivery services for StrongMail Systems.
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