Thursday, July 21, 2016

Will Facebook Messenger Kill Email?

I wish I had a dime for every time I’ve heard “email marketing is dead”. Despite all the dire predictions, email still comes in at the top or near the top of the most effective marketing channels in study after study.

Then there’s Facebook. The platform that’s all but eating the internet. And then there’s Facebook Messenger. This is, after all, the re-invented version of the tool that first prompted Mark Zuckerberg to say, “email is dead” way back in 2010.

At that time, Zuck was wrong. Messenger wasn’t quite up to speed. It wasn’t even called Messenger, actually. It was “Facebook Messages”. And basically, it failed.


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Facebook Messenger has been retooled and re-launched. It’s wildly popular. After all the chatter, email marketing may finally have reason to fear. So is this rebuilt Messenger really “the email killer”? I decided to look and see.


The user bases

  1. Email: 2.76 billion users globally and it expected to grow to 2.94 billion by 2019 according to the Radicati Group.
  2. Facebook Messenger: 900 million global users according to Facebook Messenger’s own page.

What it means: For the moment, email’s user base is still three times the size of Facebook Messenger’s user base. However, new technologies can grow fast (witness Pokémon Go). So, for the moment, email looks pretty safe in terms of user base. If we look only at this, I’d say Messenger won’t kill email.


Could messaging apps in general kill email?

Let’s step back and look at Facebook Messenger in context, as just one of the messaging apps that have launched in the last few years. These apps have already quietly beaten out social media in terms of active users. And as you can see in the graph below, they’re set to continue to grow rapidly.


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Can Messenger keep up? Maybe, it’s currently the most popular of the messaging apps pack.


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But could simple texting beat out email? Eh… probably not, though it could go either way. I’d call it a draw on whether messaging apps can kill email. That’s not the whole story, though. When you look deeper, Facebook Messenger starts to look like way more than just a messaging app.


Feature comparison: Facebook Messenger versus email

In order to try to give an “apples to apples” comparison of the two platforms/channels, let’s walk through everything Messenger can do and compare it to what email offers.

  • It’s secure

In my opinion, Facebook Messenger is way more secure than email. So secure, the bank Absa has just launched a Facebook Messenger chatbot called “ChatBanking” to let people do the following transactions from within Messenger:

  • “Get the actual and available balance on their transactional account
  • Buy airtime or data for the cellphone registered to their account
  • Get a mini-statement showing the last few transactions on their account
  • Buy PrePaid Electricity* for selected municipalities
  • Make a payment to an existing beneficiary that they have paid at least once before
  • Learn about special shortcuts to make ChatBanking even faster”

That’s not the sort of stuff you can do from within an email message.

  • You can read Instant Articles in Messenger

You can do this via email too, of course. And typically, email messages load pretty quickly.  And of course, you need an email address to set up your Facebook account in the first place. So email holds its own on this one.

  • It’s fast

Generally speaking the speed of loading messages in email is pretty fast and as you know, loading time is important to mobile users. But nothing too earth-shattering here.

  • You can switch between accounts

Messenger rolled this out for iOS users about two weeks ago. It’s a feature Android users have enjoyed since February. Of course, email users can switch accounts too; and they do. Some research points to the average email user having two or three different email addresses.

  • It has embedded apps

Again in my personal opinion, this is one place where Messenger soundly beats email. There are dozens of apps available from within the platform. Those apps can do anything from tell you the name of the song you’re hearing to checking sports and more.

  • It lets brands create and run automated “chatbots”

This is vaguely like marketing automation via email, but… honestly… way better. Why? Because it’s instant, it’s a true conversation, and it’s way more complex that what an email automation messaging plan could give you. You get to request information from a bot in a casual, almost human-to-human way that would feel pretty clunky via email. Here are two examples of chatbots in action. One from a healthcare provider (via Social Media Today):


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And one from Miss Piggy (via Disney):


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There are over 11,000 bots active on Messenger right now. This may become as necessary as having a mobile app. And yes, this feature crushes what we can do in email.

  • You can make voice and video calls with Messenger

Look out Skype! Messenger is coming for you and in a big way. Of course, email technology firms have been enabling content marketers to embed videos in email newsletters and forms.

  • You can send money

Could Messenger be a PayPal killer too? Maybe… maybe not. But it’s got the functionality to take it on. Alas, I believe email does not.

  • You can send and receive audio messages

Again, we email marketers don’t have anything to compare with this. (Please, don’t tell any telemarketers you know about this.)

  • You can let people know where you are or suggest a meeting spot on a map

I don’t have to tell you how powerful location marketing can be. Especially for small businesses or retail chains.

  • You can have group chats

Email has this too but it’s one of the most dreaded ways to communicate. Threaded email conversations are hard to manage and a royal pain to catch up on once you fall behind. They’re probably one of the best reasons to use a project management tool like Slack or HipChat.

  • Facebook Messenger users on Android

According to Daily Mail, Android users can make Messenger their default SMS text app and they can send texts from Messenger to people who don’t have Messenger accounts.

This just might be a nail in the coffin. Why? Because the biggest disadvantage  with Messenger is the fact that not everyone is on it. That limits use and interaction in a way that email doesn’t have to worry about. If you stretch the bounds of Messenger to beyond its current user base in the USA (40% of mobile users), then that may turn the tables on the limitation.

Please note, you can’t do everything off network that you can do in Messenger. Texts, images, video and audio can be sent to people who aren’t on Messenger. But sending money, sharing your location and making voice or video calls require a Messenger user-to-user link.

  • You can get a ride via Messenger, like in a car

Okay… add one other massive online service that Messenger seems to be stalking: Uber. “Transportation on Messenger” is a feature that lets you request rides from Uber and other ride-share partners soon.



So what’s the bottom line? Could Facebook Messenger or messaging apps kill email marketing?

I hesitate to say it… but yes it could. I mean… how could it not? It’s Uber, PayPal, Skype, group chat, thousands of brand bots, dozens of apps – all rolled into one. But it hasn’t yet killed email. Email still has the bulk of the users and authoritative sources still cite plenty of research that email marketing is still the most powerful marketing technique.

Personally, if I was a marketing director, I’d be spending a lot of time on Messenger. I’d be thinking about how my company could best use it.


What do you think?

When do you stand on this Messenger versus email match? Whether you agree or disagree, we’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment and tell us what you think.

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