Keeping abreast of comments on your Facebook Page

Ever since Facebook opened up every Facebook Page to comments (and not just from people who like the page) keeping tabs on your Page’s comments can be a tricky thing to do.

There are how-to guides online that suggest you can get alerts directly from Facebook when someone posts on your Page. The interface to do that seems to have been dropped in one of Facebook’s many re-imaginings of how we should be able to administer our pages.

Why would you want to?

Customers now expect companies to treat Facebook (and Twitter) like the telephone. It rings, you answer, simple right? Except posting on a company’s Facebook Page is more like driving up to their head office and yelling at them in the hope that someone will hear you. Aside from that, you don’t want any graffiti on your Facebook Page!

What does Facebook provide?

Facebook provide summaries of your Page’s activity every week, or you can get notifications as an RSS Feed. You could subscribe to that in a reader, and manually monitor that, or send it through a service that emails you any time there’s something new, but that tends to a paid-for option with most services (such as Feed My Inbox) with the free version only providing once daily summaries.

There must be a better way?

There’s a Facebook app called PageNotifier. I tried it and it didn’t work as I wanted and aesthetically it’s not too pleasing (fussy aren’t I?) and I’d rather keep the number of apps on my Facebook account to a minimum, not least because of how much information they require you to disclose. Next I found a few third party services but the ‘as soon as it happens’ option was again not part of the free offering. Finally, thanks to a post by Social Media expert and author, Mari Smith, I was turned on to Hyper Alerts, easily the best Facebook Page Notifications service. It looks great and works perfectly – set it to as soon as possible and literally within seconds of a new post or comment on your Page, you get an email. The best part, it’s free, at least for now.

Here’s a screenshot:

Hyper Alerts screenshot

Dear Email Marketer

mailfailOK, maybe I’m special, maybe I’m one of the ‘too savvy to be marketed to’ crowd. Or maybe I’m not, and maybe you’re too self absorbed to realise that the rest of the world isn’t inclined to click the ‘load images, with associated “mark me for more spam” that this implies’ button.

Whatever it is, sending emails that look like this to the AVERAGE recipient is just dumb. OK, back in 2000 we had to send plain text emails (hey I did it too) and we had no idea if they worked or not, other than actually, you know, selling the things we’re telling people about, or putting tracking codes on the link, seeing as how click-through is a pretty good measurement of interest. Then we got this amazing capability to display ‘rich HTML’ messages, when suddenly Thunderbird and Apple Mail and Outlook were cool with displaying HTML emails. So we put those sneaky little web bugs in emails that allowed us to count the open rate (as long as your recipients were looking at the HTML version). Then the developers of email clients got wise, and realised that these sneaky little web bugs were giving their users away so now they warn against loading images in an email and don’t load the images by default.

So who thinks it’s a good idea to send emails wholly comprised of broken images to the vast majority of users? I’m amazed open rates are above 10%. Maybe that just accounts for the curious recipient who wonders just what the hell they’ve been sent. What the hell kind of metric is open rate anyway? The data is muddied by the fact that you don’t even know if your email got past the gatekeeper known as the server-side spam filter, so your open rate relative to number actually delivered is anyone’s guess. If you’re relying on forcing the recipient to acknowledge receipt (because that’s what this is all about isn’t it?) by loading images otherwise they see nothing, then you’re acting out of desperation.

Can we dump the ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ cliché and get back to the idea that when we’re writing an email to our customers or prospects we are talking to human beings. Bulk emails right now are the equivalent of forcing a flier into someone’s hand. It’s supposed to be capable of so much more. Go (re-)read One-to-One Marketing and Permission Marketing if you don’t believe me. You’re supposed to be able to work out from our past interactions what it is I might be interested in. I’ve spent over £1000 with the company that sent me this. I’ve bought numerous products that should allow them to slice and dice me into a specific group, a buyer persona if you will (mountain biker with a taste for high-end light weight components), then write to me almost personally. Instead they send me something about another business unit entirely just because I agreed to be informed of future promotions. My attention is there to be piqued, not abused.

Quit bugging me

hand over mouthKeeping with the theme of email marketing (see this post about spam from a couple of days ago), this time from the customer’s perspective.

Every year or so I order a few IceBreaker and Bridgedale items from Sierra Trading Post, an outdoor clothing outlet store. Over the course of a year they email me pretty often with details of sales and special ‘we miss you’ discount codes. This is great and I’ll usually order using one of these codes, saving 25% off their already excellent prices. What bugs me is that right after I order I seem to invoke some sort of mailing avalanche. I get an email every one or two days, with another discount code, or a reminder that the discount code they sent me two days ago is about to expire.

I don’t want to unsubscribe from their list because I like receiving the codes, just not right now, plus it seems rude to unsubscribe when they’ve saved me so much over the years.

Meet me half way
What I want is an option that is somewhere between unsubscribing and having to receive then delete/ignore their emails for a while. What if there was an option for “keep me on the list, but don’t send me stuff for a couple of months, unless it’s a really impossible-to-refuse offer”.

I am not a number
Mailing frequency is a difficult thing to get right, it’s tough to gauge what’s best, but mailing managers (and the services they use) need to realise that the people they’re sending to are human beings, not just a number on a list.

Respect your audience
Seth Godin’s post a couple of days ago sparked by his experience with highlights the fact that you need to respect your subscribers and the fact that every time you send them an email you ask for a piece of their attention. It is essential to keep things relevant to them and recognise their needs. Sometimes they need you to back off, not forever, but for a while.

The next opportunity I get with a client to work on their mailing list practices I’m going to implement a ‘chill period’ whereby someone can say ‘yes, I want to be on your list, but don’t send me stuff for 2 months’.

Image credit: M Lyn

One man’s Spam is another man’s lunch

No Spam pleaseEmail marketing is both one of the most cost effective methods of reaching your customers and the most loathed.

Email marketers have to contend with over zealous junk mail filters, spam crusaders that seek to destroy them and list subscribers who forgot they gave permission. It’s so much easier to ‘report as spam’ than it is to unsubscribe.

I’ve used email marketing myself. I also hate spam. I will only use opt-in lists for this reason. Yet that doesn’t stop recipients of emails I’ve sent replying with torrents of abuse for daring to darken their inbox, and those are the ones I’ve heard from.

Many users will just instruct whatever spam filter they use to block an email. Depending on how that spam filter works, that action gets reported and if enough people do that, the sender of the email gets blacklisted. In the case of an opt-in list this is sailing pretty close to a collective act of defamation.

When users mark an email as spam, and that blacklists the sender and prevents other subscribers, who would gladly have received (and may even have been looking forward to) that email from benefiting from the content of it.

There is a solution, though it’s only partial, in the form of FBL or FeedBack Loops. Setting them up is a little complicated, though is often included in the service provided by reputable email marketing providers. I say partial because it only provides a solution for large email providers/ISPs like AOL, Comcast, Hotmail and others (a non-exhaustive list can be found here), and has to be set up with each ISP, per sending domain. An entry on the FBL for an ISP means that when one of that ISP’s customers reports your message as spam, instead of you getting blacklisted, you get a report, requiring you to unsubscribe that user. An FBL however makes no difference if the recipient of an email isn’t using their email provider’s web interface, a third party spam filter

What is needed is a concerted effort by providers of spam filtering solutions, internet service providers (as users of those spam filters), email client developers (web and desktop) and email marketing vendors. All it would take is a recognised standard email header for ‘unsubscribe address’ and ‘unsubscribe URL’, which email client software, or the spam filter in use, would interpret and communicate with, instead of placing a black mark against the sender. The email marketing vendors (or the DIY sender) would handle the unsubscribe submissions. The list might get smaller but the deliverability goes way up.

This appears to be the way Google are going with their unsubscribe option in Gmail. Criticism of this by email marketers is levelled at the wording and operation – equating unsubscribing with reporting spam. It fits with Google’s usual m.o. of trying to simplify a process as much as possible, as long as the sender does what they’re supposed to.

Who loses out? People who don’t play by the rules. Everybody else wins. The spam filter providers have shorter, easier to process blacklists. Email providers and email marketing vendors spend less time processing blacklist removal requests and finally the end user who wants a mailing is guaranteed to receive it.

Image credit: Thomas Hawk

Don’t Be Disingenuous

not a fair comparisonToday I received a piece of junk mail, I have no idea how they got my email address, I’m guessing from an unscrupulous UK based list seller (it’s a .com address but the mailing is from a UK company).

The point of this post isn’t to tilt against the windmill of spam, it is to underline the fact that you have to get your story straight. 

This company’s selling an interesting service – take a luxury chauffeur driven car from London to wherever, instead of first class train travel for several people. Leaving aside the obvious issues of traffic and roadworks that is part of life in the UK as well as the clearly environmentally unfriendly aspects of this option, the sender has chosen to illustrate their point with an image of the interior of a standard class train carriage (5 seats across) compared to the rear seats of a luxury sedan. It’s just not an apples-to-apples comparison. Why not a spacious first class carriage? Couldn’t find a stock image of one or didn’t want to pay for a first class ticket so you could take one yourself? Here’s a link to some Creative Commons licensed images on Flickr to choose from, I’m sure one of those photographers wouldn’t mind a few quid for the rights to use it.

Well done! They’ve already spammed me and it’s clear that they’re economical with the truth. Really want to prove your point? Buy a first class ticket for a rush hour train and take a picture of all the people who end up having to stand because it’s overcrowded. Lead with the positives about your service: door-to-door, you’re guaranteed to get a seat, leave when you want and not when the timetable says, in-car wifi, privacy and discretion – these aren’t even mentioned in your email! Just don’t try to mislead.


Photo credit (?!): Chauffeur Select