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Facebook Private Messaging: Giving Brands or Fans More Voice?

Several reputable blogs have posted recently about Facebook testing a new feature in Asia – private messaging on brand Pages. It appears to be first reported by we are social (12/10/11), with subsequent mentions on Read Write Web (12/12/11) and The Next Web (12/19/11), among others. It’s unclear whether or not Facebook’s test aims to enable: 1) consumers’ desire for a better social customer service channel; 2) the desire of brands to better control social conversation and consumer viewpoints or experiences; or 3) both.

Regardless of the impetus or motive, enabling private messaging on Pages (under the control of Page admins) has pros and cons for consumer and company alike.

Some Not-so-Favorable Stats

As I highlighted in my blog post from last week, brands respond poorly to fans’ page posts. According to a Socialbakers study, in reviewing “a couple hundred thousand direct questions in separate wall posts” on Facebook, 95% of wall posts go unanswered. In a separate study of the largest US retailers conducted by conversocial, 65% of complaints or questions were missed by the sample group.

As social media continues its evolution, consumers are gravitating to social channels seeking “real-time” customer service, which is clearly challenging brands based on the statistics. Many commenters on Facebook’s new private message test have praised the move as opening up more direct social customer service channels. And they may be right, because consumers typically favor choice.

If the stats are right though, or even partly right, many brands are having difficulty communicating socially, let alone effectively handling customer service through social channels. I don’t have a benchmark reference, but I will opine that if a consumer is seeking customer service via a social channel, they have been unsuccessful in resolving a customer service issue and have exhausted other available, non-social channels.

If brands aren’t take the time to respond to public wall posts, questions or complaints, will they respond to private messages through the social channel? For companies who are effectively engaged in social conversation and promote it as part of their brand and corporate culture, yes. But, for the statistical majority who are struggling to keep up with the conversation, likely, no.

I would love your comments and opinions on this topic, especially from those who may be dealing with “corporate policy” as one of the factors that prohibits public responses on social sites.

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