Facebook are continuing this week's platform innovations by unveiling Private Messages for Pages:
Although this may appear a minor addition, the implications are actually quite significant: these private message will make it much easier for brands to interact with fans and - critically - complainants, in a more direct and individual manner.
When a visitor clicks on the Message button on a Page, it brings up a simple dialogue box that allows them to enter a message:
It's worth highlighting here that a visitor doesn't need to have 'Liked' the page in order to send a Private Message; the functionality appears to be open to all.
Once a visitor has sent a message to the Page, it is added to the visitor's Messages area, just like a message they'd send to a friend's personal profile:
The Page then receives a notification that they've received a Private Message in their Page's top right-hand notifications menu (just under the Admins section):
Clicking on the Messages arrow (see below), Page Admins can see a brief overview of the messages they've received before deciding whether to respond immediately or not:
Also, if you're using Facebook as a Page, you'll receive notifications in the global notifications bar as well:
Clicking on a message from a visitor allows a Page Admin to respond; again, the reply interface for the page is almost identical to the one we're used to with private messages between individuals:
Once the page has replied, the original visitor receives notification of the Page's message in exactly the same way they would if they received a message from a friend's personal profile:
If the visitor opens the message, it looks like any other message they'd receive from a friend:
There doesn't appear to be any facility allowing Pages to proactively contact fans through private messages yet - Pages can only use Private Messages to respond to messages sent by visitors, or to comments visitors have made on their Wall.
However, the option to send a private response to a public Wall post is quite interesting:
From our perspective, this will be a particularly useful avenue to follow up with private or sensitive fan enquiries, and will remove the need for conversations to move away from Facebook into email.
As a result, we expect to see a considerable number of Wall Posts replies that consist of "Thanks very much for your comment - we've sent you a Private Message!"
However, just in case you were wondering (as we did), this updated functionality has not extended to real-time chat for Pages yet, but we wouldn't be surprised to see that addition very soon - as you can see from the Facebook admin notification below, it looks like Facebook are still testing the new private messaging system:
As you can see, the whole Private Messaging system is relatively straightforward, which means there should be few barriers to Pages adopting this tool.
It's interesting that Facebook decided to roll this all out now - we've been predicting an increased focus on individual, one-to-one communications for a while, as social platforms try to differentiate themselves from traditional 'broadcast' approaches.
We're very excited about this, because simplified, one-to-0ne communications will help brands to nurture and motivate core fans and key influencers - part of what we're referring to as a move towards building "social nicheworks" as well as the more public social networks.
What do you think? Will you make use of the Private Messages feature to respond to fans?
More importantly, as a fan, would you prefer to interact privately via these Private Messages, or keep conversations open and public on the Wall?
We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Update (Mon 12 Dec)
Following discussions with people in Europe and the US, it appears this feature is not available everywhere yet. Inside Facebook have confirmation from Facebook:
We are currently testing a feature that allows people and Pages to communicate privately. We have no further details to share at this time.