While eyes turn once again to Facebook and its recent unveiling of a new 'Graph Search Function,' there is another story brewing in one of their other, newly revealed features - paid messaging. Essentially, you pay Facebook a dollar and, in return, they allow you to send a message directly to the inbox of someone outside of your network of friends. If you use LinkedIn with any regularity, this pricing model might sound very familiar - I know I immediately thought of their service InMail.
InMail essentially lets you send a message to anyone that uses LinkedIn. However, it requires that you have a Premium account - at its cheapest an upgrade will cost $7.95/month. LinkedIn also limits the amount of messages you can send a month for "free," depending on the plan you sign up for. However, LinkedIn also guarantees a response and credits your account if you do not receive one.
Will this new messaging feature allow Facebook to challenge LinkedIn's domination in the field of professional networking? The separation of networks is certainly understandable - the last thing you want your future boss to see is a photo album of your recent booze-filled trip to Cancun. Users are increasingly cleaning up their profiles and turning them into a virtual résumé out of a fear, or perhaps hope, that interested employers will stumble upon the little virtual imprint of themselves and like what they see. Facebook is also "stickier" than LinkedIn, with users spending an average of six hours a month on the site in comparison to seventeen minutes on LinkedIn.
We like "all-you-can-eat" buffet-style social media sites, and Facebook offers a lot of features in a fairly intuitive package. An HR executive can run a quick search for a prospective new hire while waiting for their mom to play a word in Scrabble, versus having to click over to LinkedIn, sign in, and look for what is essentially a digital résumé, likely identical to the one the candidate handed in already. People may not like the fact that Facebook is slowly turning into a tool for professional networking, but it is and there is little that can be done to stop it.
This new one-dollar messaging feature will only aid Facebook's encroachment into LinkedIn's territory. Rather than having to pay eight dollars a month to message a set amount of people outside of your network, all you have to do is pay a dollar and the man or woman looking to fill a position in your dream job will have a message sitting in their inbox, and a notification alerting them to this fact above their Facebook feed. Though Facebook does not offer the same guarantees that LinkedIn does, users will reportedly be able to continue to send messages for free, provided the recipient doesn't label the sender as a spammer. The messaging feature is cheaper, has a one-time-cost per recipient and, thanks to the fact that so many people spend a lot of time on Facebook; chances are good that the recipient will see the message.
This feature is still in beta, and Facebook may decide to charge more than a dollar, or to allow users to set how much they want to charge to allow a stranger to send them a message later on. If either of those things happens then we are all analyzing and pontificating for nothing - Facebook will continue to slowly envelop LinkedIn's market but there will still be a good reason to pay for a premium account on LinkedIn, especially if you are looking for a job.
But if the price remains a dollar? Being able to have a direct conversation with the person directly in charge of hiring for a position you want is extremely tantalizing. And, if you are going to use the Facebook messaging feature for that, you will want to clean up your profile - maybe remove those John Mayer lyrics from your quotations section. As time goes on and people understand how useful of a feature paid messaging can be, Facebook may pass LinkedIn as the go-to professional networking site.
I doubt that will mean the end for LinkedIn, but it will certainly hurt their bottom line.