Despite the wonderful marvels that the technological age continues to bring to us, there is almost always a dark side to these advances, or at least a downside. For example, Google gives the public access to virtually every detail of the combined knowledge of humanity, in return for gathering every detail about your own life – which, as we have seen in recent years, also means that outside organizations such as governments also have access to your details in most cases.
In the case of social media platforms, most people willingly share their information in return for access to distant friends and family, a consolidated feed of newsworthy stories, and most recently an endless digital strip-mall. In the case of the latter, consumers are more than happy to have more direct access to businesses and products and companies are thrilled at having additional outlets for marketing and sales, but the real question is how much control the businesses want to give up in their relationship with their customers.
Facebook Opens A Direct Conversation
Social media opens up a new world in the commerce universe, with many wonderful opportunities and tools for both consumers and companies. However, just because something is offered doesn’t mean that your business is obligated to, or should, take advantage of it.
Such is the case for the newest “business tool” from Facebook, announced August 5th on their business blog. In their continuing effort to make Facebook Messenger an autonomous stand-alone platform, the world’s largest social network is launching a feature which will allow direct communication between consumers and businesses through ads and Pages.
When an ad shows up in a user’s news feed, they will be able to send a message directly to that company via a “Send Message” button in the ad. In addition, the companies will be “graded” on how fast and how often they respond to messages from ads.
Conversely, if a user has “liked” a company’s page, the company will be able to send a direct message to that user, presumably to ask them for business. Users will have the option to block these messages if they choose, thankfully, but it will once again be an opt-out rather than an opt-in choice. The upside is that this gives both sides a place apart from a company website or retail location to reach out to each other, which is exactly the thing that social media has been striving for from a business perspective.
The Faustian Bargain
It’s simply a matter of fact that the more a business takes advantage of social media platforms and the tools they provide, the more control they give up over their customer interactions on those platforms. You can’t fault the platforms. They’re in business too after all, and they have a duty to their investors to maximize their own profits. And that is exactly the point you should keep in mind when you consider what you will and will not do on Facebook for your own business. Facebook ads are one thing, because they’re no different than renting billboard space or buying a commercial spot on TV, other than the cost. In fact, Facebook ads are a bargain by comparison.
The difference is that this new form of direct messaging is really invading on the turf of customer service more than sales, and that’s a more sacred relationship. Make no mistake, there will be costs involved in using this tool. The question businesses have to answer is whether this additional cost is worth the invasion of their relationship with their customers. If your business is unable to maintain this relationship well without Facebook’s assistance then the answer may be “yes”. But if that’s the case, maybe you should re-evaluate your business.