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Facebook Messages Next Target for Sponsored Stories?

Facebook code showing promoted messages

After the News Feed, Messages are one of the key components of Facebook. Looking through their code, it seems like they could be the next place you’ll see promoted content.

Messages have long been a part of Facebook. For a while, brands could send a message to all their fans. In 2011, Facebook relaunched messages, combining emails, SMS and messages across all devices, in a project codenamed Project Titan. It’s quite a technological feat, and blurs the lines between communication channels. It’s also what led to everybody owning an @facebook.com email address. However, brands lost the direct contact to the Inbox, with messages appearing in an obscure ‘Other’ folder. It seems like sponsored messages could be a new income stream for Facebook in the next few months.


After looking at the code, three things point to Facebook working on promoted messages.

  1. PAID_PROMOTION as a possible source of a message (alongside iPhone, Android, Mobile Web etc.)
  2. promotion:promoted as a message tag. Other tags are mundane - sent, archived, spam etc.
  3. is_promoted being returned in the data about each message.

Let’s go through each one.

1. Message sources

This allows Facebook to show an email icon from messages received via email, or a cellphone for mobile messages. Primarily, it’ll be used for gathering statistics on how messages are being sent and received.

In a list of sources in the code of facebook.com/messages, we find PAID_PROMOTION as a possible source.

"Sources": {
    ...
    "PAID_PROMOTION": "source:paid_promotion",
    ...
}

Paid promotion has got to mean promotion that’s been paid for, right? And what’s it doing in messages?

2. Message Tags

Facebook message tags are attached to every message. Most are obvious - Spam, Archive, Sent, Read etc., and some deal with bridging to email messages (BCC, etc.). We also see promotion:promoted, and promotion:demoted. I’m assuming a demoted message is flagged after marking a promoted message uninteresting.

"MessagingTag": {
    ...
    "PROMOTED": "promotion:promoted",
    "DEMOTED": "promotion:demoted",
    ...,
}

These wouldn’t be here unless they needed to be. The other tags are clearly the nuts, bolts and mechanics of the Messages product. This is different.

3. Message Data

Over in the data used to build your list of messages, we see is_promoted and is_demoted

{
    ...
    "is_archived": false,
    "is_demoted": false,
    "is_promoted": false,
}

This goes along with the tags, and would be used to add the correct annotations to the messages in the UI. Obviously, showing consistent messaging for sponsorships is important. Messages are across all devices, so it’s clear this data would start being returned.

It’s possible I’m getting confused somewhere along the line, but it feels like somewhere at Facebook, somebody has been busy with promoted messages. I wonder if and when it’ll be released!