Facebook is testing a new feature called paid messaging. It will let users send a message directly to the inboxes of people outside of their network, starting with a cost of at least $1 per message. The price tag rises depending on the profile of the strangers you’re trying to reach. The higher the profile, the higher the cost per message. In fact, Facebook says for $100 you can even send a paid message to CEO Mark Zuckerburg.

The paid messages are part of Facebook’s larger attempt to generate new revenue. The company rolled out a paid update feature last October, letting users promote a personal post by paying $7. The payment ensures the post will appear near the top of their friend’s timeline, pushing down unpaid posts below them.

The news of a paid messaging feature is generating some debate among marketers, especially those focused on B2B marketing. Some say paid messaging will help B2B marketers increase their visibility since they often face the challenge of catching the attention of prospects of Facebook. B2B marketing posts often get lost in the mix when competing for attention with the more frequent posts from B2C marketers. Paid messaging might help ensure the messages get seen.

However, not everyone is convinced paid messaging is an effective strategy. First there is the issue of cost. While $1 may seem nominal, it could soon add up to a substantial amount depending on how many people the messages target. Some would argue that money could be better spent elsewhere. It’s important to consider the opportunity costs.

Some marketers say the entire paid messaging concept is counterproductive, because the recipient could begin to see the marketer as a professional spammer. It boils down to whether Facebook users will see a paid message as genuine engagement or an annoyance.

If B2B marketers do decide to use paid messaging it’s imperative they stay focused on bringing real value to the prospects they’re targeting. To be effective the message has to go well beyond simple product promotion. Bringing real value to a prospect means they’ll be more likely to take action, instead of simply deleting the paid message.

There will likely be a big learning curve for marketers when it comes to striking a balance between engagement and promotion. That’s why it’s so important to use a quality analytics program. Solid analytics will help marketers find Facebook users most receptive to promotional posts in the first place. Analytics can also help determine which type of paid messaging is most effective overall.

It may take a while for marketers to fully understand the benefits and drawbacks of paid messaging, but one thing is clear right now. The tactic should be just one part of of a much larger engagement strategy. It should be folded in to a brand’s overall lifecycle marketing approach, Otherwise you’re just casting a net at random trying to gather new leads.

What do you think about Facebook’s Paid Messaging feature? Could it be an effective marketing tool? Would you pay to use it? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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