Facebook is keenly aware of the propensity of businesses to spam when they don’t know any better. It’s where the first spam emails came from, it’s the philosophy behind neighborhood direct mail campaigns and it’s the default means of reaching as many people as possible with as little effort as possible. It takes work and analysis to target an audience with precision.
To help combat spam, Facebook puts limits on the communications options you have as a business Page. Profiles are less restricted, but you also can’t use a profile for business. There are plenty of good reasons to use a Page over a Profile anyway, so it’s not a tough decision. In terms of restrictions, Facebook doesn’t allow unsolicited private messages, for example. It also puts a limit on the number of contacts you can import.
On the other hand, Facebook realizes that new businesses may have existing contact lists and may want to legitimately build their audience quickly. Though there are many ways to do this, email contact invitations are one of the most basic. An established business getting into Facebook for the first time likely has a newsletter or other form of email contact list ripe for using.
Facebook Contact Invites
According to Facebook itself, you can only invite email contacts to your Facebook page in bulk when you have 5,000 followers or fewer. Five thousand is apparently the magic number for popularity where a larger business would be spamming to do what a smaller business does to establish itself.
In your Facebook Page, click the Build Audience button at the top and choose Import Contacts, if the option is available. Here you will be prompted to either upload a file or input your login information for your email service. This way you can upload your contacts directly from an email account, if you prefer.
In the interests of security, it’s generally better to generate an exported contacts list from your email provider to use to upload. Facebook claims not to store your login information, but it’s still better not to send it if you can help it.
Either way, once you have generated a file to upload or linked your email, Facebook is given access to your list of email contacts. You can use this list through Facebook to invite your contacts to follow your Facebook Page. If those contacts are not already Facebook members, Facebook may send them an invitation to join.
Now, as for limitations. Again, if you have over 5,000 followers on your Page already, you won’t be able to import a contacts list. You may be able to use contacts already imported, or you may not. Either way, that’s not the only limitation on email invites. You are limited to five uses of the import contacts button per Page per day. Each use of the import feature is limited to 7,000 contacts; if your contacts list is significantly longer, you will be forced to distribute your imports over the course of days or weeks.
Issues of Focus
Facebook’s restrictions are generally sensible. They may seem restrictive at first, but when you actually import your contacts and solicit them for likes, you’ll see why. Submit a form solicitation to 1,000 or 7,000 contacts and how many of them are likely to actually convert? Strip out the addresses that are no longer active or were fake when they were added to your database. Strip out the addresses of people who don’t have Facebook accounts, or who have left their accounts behind. Strip out the people unwilling to follow your page, even if they subscribe to your newsletter. What do you have left?
In fact, your conversion rate is likely going to be much higher if you use that same email contacts list to send out a newsletter announcing that you’ve created a new Facebook Page and that you want them to convert. If you couple this with an introductory offer, a coupon or sale or contest gated behind liking your page, you’ll have an even better conversion rate. It’s much more personal and more effective than sending out bland, boring connection requests through Facebook.
There’s also the issue of Facebook’s limitations if you’re a large business with a large legitimate contacts list. If you have a list of 200,000 contacts, and you can only upload 7,000 per day, it’s going to take you nearly a full month to invite them all. If, out of your daily 7,000, you get a conversion rate of one out of seven, you’ll have your 5,000 followers after a week. That leaves three quarters of your contacts list uncontacted; you would be cut off from the email invite system.
Issues of Spam
Honestly, few businesses have an excuse to use the email contact form for more than a day or two. Small businesses, those struggling to reach 5,000 followers, have a reason to put everything they can into bringing in new users. Using their contacts list would be just one of many paths, including direct newsletters, website promotions and even in-store advertising.
On the other hand, what’s the most common reason to have an email contact list totally in the hundreds of thousands? Generally, it’s because the user purchases the contacts list from a bulk information seller. Facebook wants to limit the use of such lists, so it makes the usage restrictions on email invitations fairly harsh.
Of course, purchased bulk email lists aren’t very effective. Usually, a large percentage of the addresses on the list are fake or defunct. Of those that are valid, the majority of them are going to be people with no interest in your business. The percentage of useful addresses pulled from such a list would be very small.
Any business large enough to have a contact list of such volume is also large enough to establish a Facebook Page in other ways, much more effectively. It may be giving the average company more credit than they deserve to say so, but most large companies are also smart enough to target their audiences for maximum ROI, rather than using a carpet bombing approach to audience attraction.