With the holidays upon us, let us give in to our innate desire to get social. And by that, I mean let's talk about the right ways to integrate email and social networks.
Over the past year or so, marketing writers have often spoken of email and social networking as mutually exclusive channels -- if one, then not the other. The growth in social networking, many have said, comes at the expense of email. Some data, notably comScore web traffic data, show a rise in time spent on social networking sites and a decline in time spent on webmail sites. First of all, these numbers do not include the time spent on PC- or mobile-based email or social networking, so the true extent of any shift from one to the other remains unknown.
But more importantly, these channels work together. Before social networking, email acted as the online social sharing channel. People emailed pictures, updates, and, yes, bad jokes to one another. With the advent of social networking, people shifted a behavior from one channel to another. Email remains the de facto requirement of social networking membership. Neither channel will eliminate the other.
On a grander level, social and email inform one another. Many marketers have used their email lists to drive social activity in two ways: 1) share-with-your-network (SWYN) calls to action and 2) friend/follower recruitment. While the emphasis today seems to fall on driving consumers from email to social, the potential exists to drive the opposite behavior as well. So let's explore the possibilities.
In essence, SWYN represents the social equivalent of forward-to-a-friend (FTAF), the feature that allowed consumers to use the marketer's email system to send along emails. That approach had a major limitation: It took more effort than simply hitting the "forward" button and dropping in names from the user's own address book. SWYN allows sharing with one button push.
As with any tactic used in email, applying SWYN universally has its limitations. So first of all, don't assume that every offer or piece of content merits sharing. Take a hard look at what goes into your emails and only share the things that really stand out, such as a once-per-season sale or an exclusive piece of content.
Similarly, design the SWYN call to action with discretion. Learn what social networks your customers use the most, potentially by polling. Also, test different designs for the SWYN call to action to learn which design drives the most clicks. Lastly, ensure that the content or offer has an appropriate thumbnail image and descriptor for easy scanning on the chosen site.
Recruiting email opt-ins to become friends or followers on social networks offers an opportunity to open up a secondary channel to consumers. For email addresses that have become unresponsive, social messaging may allow for an opportunity to re-engage. Even for active email respondents, the social networking channel offers the prospect of an officially unofficial channel -- a forum that conveys a sense of being an insider to the consumer.
Accordingly, the CTA for recruitment should offer something of value for the consumer, whether it be a discount or access to information first. By the same token, messages sent via social network should not repeat email messages. If you can't commit to doing something special via social networking, you shouldn't bother.
Social networking lacks the measurement capabilities of email, but that shouldn't stop a marketer from measuring it completely. By embedding distinctive links in the social communications and measuring usage of those links via web analytics, the marketer can get a rough idea of success.
From social to email
Many marketers overlook the opportunity to recruit email opt-ins from a social environment. Status updates and tweets are natural places to put in a link for an opt-in, provided the offer has appeal. For instance, a marketer can use social networks to promote email newsletters or sales emails.
More aggressively, a marketer can create applications for social networks that encourage email opt-ins. The trick here is to create an interesting application. Games, contests, and fun interactive applications can engage consumers with a brand, thus giving them a reason to want to opt-in to email.
Clearly, there is much left to be written about integrating social networking and email. These ideas should give any marketer exploring social networking a good start. While the holidays will end soon, this story will not.