Designing email campaigns for Facebook Messages

Despite the odd request for an opinion, we’ve been reserved when it has come to speculating about what Facebook Messages will mean to email designers and their clients. Facebook announced this under the ominous ‘Project Titan’ label in mid-November - predictably, over two months (and much hysteria) later, we’re only just starting to see these updates get rolled out, let alone the ‘emailpocalypse’.

Facebook Messages' 'Other' inbox

Finally, a couple of folks on our team gained access to Facebook Messages and to be honest, the sentiment has been pretty flat. Our friends at Litmus obviously felt the same when they got a early sneak-peek and declared it to be ‘irrelevant to email marketers’. But the awkwardness of not having subject lines in replies and segregation to the ‘Other’ pile aside, we thought we’d provide some practical observations on how Facebook Messages deals with email campaigns.

Text yourself before you wreck yourself

The first thing you’ll notice when looking at an HTML email in Messages’ ‘Other’ inbox is that the plain-text alternative is displayed by default. The column width is roughly 60 characters wide, meaning that Facebook forces lines of text to wrap if they extend beyond this:

Plain text version of an email

It’s often really easy to ignore the text version of your campaign (unless you’re sending plain-text emails, of course), so this is a solid reminder that it’s worth putting a bit of effort in, also for the sake of mobile device users and anyone who prefers to read their email sans HTML support. We’ve even got some plain-text templates and formatting tips to help you back on the path.

Note that Messages does not automatically turn URLs into links, which to us is a real usability boo.

Not quite the CSS support we were hoping for

There’s a little ‘expand’ link next to the plain text version, that loads the HTML content of an email campaign in a lightbox window. The link may not be the most obvious thing in the world, but after the initial coverage on Facebook Messages, I guess we were glad to see HTML email support there at all. Or, so we thought.

You see, every month, we send out an HTML email newsletter. We test it. We keep it simple. Here’s what it looks like in most email clients:

Campaign Monitor newsletter - normal

With Facebook overriding, or ignoring our CSS styles, we were in for a bit of a surprise:

Campaign Monitor newsletter in Facebook

Admittedly, our newsletter isn’t perfect and we haven’t tested Facebook’s CSS support down to the smallest attribute. But as we all know, it only takes a few properties to knock down all the fences. So far, we’ve found that:

  • padding is not supported, thus the collapsed sections
  • background-color is also not supported
  • Link colors are overridden with color #3B5998
  • p tags have a margin of 10-15px applied to both the top and bottom (unless explicitly defined in your styles)
  • Some class names are stripped, so please inline your CSS

I’m sure there’s more to find, but those were the most visible rendering issues. Overall, we’d say Messages’ HTML email rendering capability is on par with Gmail’s - not bad, not awesome - with a few points in the positive for having images turned on by default, but a few points docked for fickle CSS support.

Should I be concerned about Facebook Messages?

I personally don’t think this version of Facebook Messages will become a rising star in the email client world. Geared towards short form, text-only messages, its certainly a step up if you value chattering within your Facebook friend network (and its text messaging support is a bonus in this regard), but its limitations as an email platform will most likely prevent it from being widely used as an everyday email address. Plus, would you take a job applicant really seriously if they were sending from a @facebook.com address? Really?

Then again, Facebook Messages may be the unified communications solution of the future and I may live to eat my headband. But for a couple of reasons, I don’t think that will be the case anytime soon.

Posted by Ros Hodgekiss

14 Comments

  • Ben Duncan
    19th January

    Hi Ros,

    I tend to agree with you on the comments, I don’t see Facebook Messaging replacing email for normal consumers anytime soon.

    Certainly see the value in people relying more on Facebook messaging for their network of friends, but to replace email? No ;-)

    Mind you, now Lars from Google (Maps/Wave) is working with Facebook they may just have a few new ideas up their sleeve -

  • Derek Edwards
    19th January

    My main concern is just in terms of the declining attention value (maybe stickiness?) that email receives in the direct marketing continuum.  Even if FB messages only catches on as a forum for communicating with friends and family, that’s a major chunk of attention lost from inboxes where our marketing messages await.  So to me FB messages is just something else to continue to drive average open rates lower in the battle for consumer attention.  And I guess I also have to mention that I’m also implying the critical need for businesses to invest in “mosocializing” their email campaigns.

  • Wilbert Heinen
    19th January

    You can change the Link colors by using font within the anchor like this:

    <font color=”......”>...</font>

    But then you still have the text-decoration:underline from facebook that replaces your own style.

  • giorgio fontana
    20th January

    great post; let’s see what is going to happen…
    I’ll draw the attention on this on our Italian email marketing magazine!

    cheers

    giorgio

  • Rodney Riley
    2nd February

    I think with the rise of social networking we can’t really ignore this for too long but at the moment we’ve not really seen any evidence that this is going to be relevant to our product line and business. Time will tell I guess. It’s a shame that after all these years email clients of one form or another continue to struggle with the most basic css.

  • Shrikant
    2nd February

    Very best features. This will help us to improve our social media brand.

  • Erling Hamso
    2nd February

    Would !important work? (Even though I generally despise the use of it.)

  • AT
    2nd February

    I hope that people aren’t too quick to put all their eggs in one basket by using Facebook for email as well.

    Personally I think Facebook is one big time waster and people should be careful sharing too much information. Facebook already has a string of privacy issues and shady associations, how easy would it be to search peoples emails to help continue the social experiment that Facebook is.

  • Peter Venero
    2nd February

    Haven’t you guys heard Mark Zuckerberg repeatedly say when they were rolling it out: This is not email”. ;-)

  • Michael Cleland
    2nd February

    I agree, there was a whole lot of hooplah a couple of months ago, and I can’t see that it looks that much different to their old messaging system.

    It won’t be the centre of my messaging world, that’s what Gmail is for.

  • Dennis
    3rd February

    I’m sure it will help us to improve our social branding! :)

  • kai
    4th February

    Whether it takes off or not, l would still secure your address.

  • Metal Gear Solid Rising
    5th February

    Descubre el nuevo juego de Kojima, la nueva version de este juego de tanto prestigio, pero al parecer ya hay algun problema
    segun este blog de ya hay una version pirata por internet, al parecer filtraron una copia del juego
    sin proteccion anticopia.
    Metal Gear Solid


    Un duro golpe al mundo de los juegos y en especial a este que antes del suceso estaba planeando
    su lanzamiento en 3D,  pero esto se retrasara a causa de este suceso.

    <a >Metal Gear Solid</a>

  • LLULL
    21st February

    wow the return of the font tag!

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