You’ve surely heard by now about Facebook’s latest money-making scheme: charging to message non-friends. They started rolling this out in late December of 2012, but now with the rollout extending to Great Britain, it looks as though it may be here to stay.

There has been a ton of criticism from users as well as much praise from business sites for the move, and I can understand both the good and the bad points of view. Here, let me crack my skull open a bit so you can peer in on my musings.

The Good

There are upsides to charging, even for the users. First, the ability to message someone that you wouldn’t be able to get a message to otherwise can be a very useful tool. Think job seekers contacting high-level execs at a company, musicians contacting agents or record execs, or getting a message through to some celebrity that you want to support your cause in some way.

These are worth a premium, no doubt, even if it is $100.  After all, you can’t DM someone on Twitter that you aren’t connected to, and LinkedIn has a tiered service charge for similar options of being able to connect to others for business purposes.

The Bad

Even at $1, how many people are going to pay to send a message to someone they share a group with but aren’t already friends with? The quick answer: probably none. I happen to have a real world example of this that demonstrates the downside quite well.

First, let me explain that I didn’t even know that there was an “other” inbox in the FB messaging system before this happened. (did you?) I am in several private groups on FB, mostly related to social media professionals. I am not personal “friends” with each person in each group – why would I need to be? We share a group, after all.

So, an individual in one of my groups was trying to contact me privately about a job they needed done. They were greeted with a friendly message (dripping sarcasm there) that it would cost them $1 to deliver the message to my inbox. Deciding against this (as I would have), it went to my “other” box (remember, I didn’t even know this was there – and you don’t get notifications for it).

The result was that they contacted me through Google+ instead. Way to go, Facebook, forcing your users to go to a competing site to communicate. Great model.

The Possibilities

I’m not opposed to the idea of charging to message strangers. It’s a great way to reduce spammy messages and, like I mentioned earlier, to contact someone you may not have been able to contact otherwise. However, if you are going to do something like this that will cause an uproar, at least do it right.

Several articles have offered great ideas for adjusting this model, notably Rocky Agrawal’s January guest post on Venture Beat. As he argues, there should be a tiered system of some sort. Why not allow a celebrity or exec to not only set prices, but get a cut as well? For example, $20 to have it delivered, $50 for a guaranteed read, and $100 for a guaranteed response, with the receiver getting a percentage of the fees, would be much more effective and generate more revenue, in my opinion.

On the other side of the coin, FB should be smart enough to filter through groups and friends of friends to allow for free messaging to those who are likely to be genuine messages and not spam. Privacy filters are required to be set by users for everything else, why not this?

For a business, this could be one more piece to help with their already existent social media marketing tools, not only for engagement purposes, but for possible business opportunities. An email or contact form might or might not be taken seriously or even read, but if someone is paying you and the platform to read a message, that would bring enough seriousness to the message that almost anyone would pay attention to it, especially if they were paid more for a guaranteed response.

 

Gavin Hammar

Tech entrepreneur, software developer and founder of Sendible.com.

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