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February 25, 2009

What Social Media Can Learn From Email Marketing

Psst.  Hey, marketer!  Trying to figure out your social media strategy before the boss asks again?  I gotta few tips for you.  Many social media challenges can benefit from hard won lessons we’ve learned through email marketing.

1.     It’s not free. There are plenty of free social media tools out there.  You can certainly set up a MySpace brand page or LinkedIn profile for free.  However, no social media program will succeed without time, resources and expertise.

Email lessons learned: Email marketing is still considered “free, or nearly free” by many executives.  Perhaps the inexpensive price tag is both our best friend and our worst enemy.  Too often, the poor email program manager is left alone to blast out message after message without creative, data analysis or technical support to really engage subscribers, grow loyalty and drive additional revenue.  Invest in your talent and give them the room to test new ideas and learn about the audiences they serve.

2.    Being present is not enough. Put up a corporate-speak Facebook page and see who comes.  Not so many, right?  But a Facebook page that has a cause or purpose is interesting because it’s meaningful and engaging.  At the same time, tell no one about your page and it’s all but invisible.

Email lessons learned: First, it’s not true that “just because we send, they will respond.”   Look at the high percentage of non-responsers (no opens, clicks or conversions from email in many months) on every house file.  Look at the very low response rates from non-permission files.  Any monkey can blast email.  The technology makes it easy and cheap.   Response, however, is driven by engagement and relevancy (and good timing).

Second, email marketers know well that the file doesn’t grow unless we advertise it.  Prominent and provocative invitations all over the website, catalog and call center scripts are essential to building an email community.  Third, not all subscribers are created equally.  Segment your audience and set up specific email programs and social communities and blogs to speak to their particular interest.

3.    Be authentic. This is a universal marketing truth, but worth mentioning because too many email and social programs lack it.  Our customers know when they are being sold.  Relevance, honesty, believability, integrity: these are the only things that create value and drive predictable response.

4.    Integrate, don’t imitate. Replicating your website on Facebook does not a compelling and engaging destination make.  Posting your email offers on Twitter will quickly tire followers.   Selling product may not be the best objective of your social strategy.  Perhaps your blog is about education and driving inquiries.  Your MySpace brand community may be about reach for video ads.  Twitter may be a great customer service outreach tool.

Email lessons learned: Use your digital and direct channels in support of each other.  A mobile or SMS campaign can be a great complement to email or a retail sale.  Email makes postal mail and online advertising work smarter.  Blogs can significantly improve search results to your Web site.

5.    Endorsements matter. Social media pulls the marketer off the brand pedestal and drags her into the throes of the messy, wild, unpredictable community.  In this equality, social media empowers brand advocates.

Email lessons learned: Beyond a conversion/sale, the best endorsement you can get in email is to be forwarded.  Forget the technology.  Content is only forwarded because it speaks to the subscriber and s/he aspires to own the message. Now subscribers “SWYN” — share with your network — expanding the reach further.  There are also endorsements for having a good sender reputation so your email messages reach the inbox — whitelists at the major ISPs like Hotmail and Yahoo, and third-party services like Sender Score Certified, SurityMail and Goodmail.

6.    Measure well. All investments in social media must be linked to a business goal.

Email lessons learned: This is one we are still learning in email.  Opens and clicks do not matter to executives — all that matters is contribution to the bottom line.  Branding, retention, loyalty and share of wallet can be measured if the data is collected and trended over time, and by audience segment.

7.    Have something to say. This is perhaps most important.  Don’t start talking until you have something valuable to say.  Make the commitment and stick to it.  Fund it.  Be ready to maintain it.

Email lessons learned: Too much email marketing is boring.  Subscribers readily complain to the ISPs (click the Report Spam button which depresses deliverability for marketers), unsubscribe or just ignore much of what comes to their inbox.  What a missed opportunity!  We are successful only when we make it less about us and more about our subscribers.

Conversation takes two people who do both listening and talking.  This is the essential truth of our social Web 2.0 world:  Marketers don’t own the conversation.  Give your subscribers and community members what they want — engaging, interesting, relevant content and offers that are worth reading and talking about — and they will give you what you want: sales and loyalty.

Stephanie Miller is vice president of strategic services for Return Path, a 20-year veteran of direct marketing and online publishing, and a frequent writer, speaker and advocate for email marketers everywhere.

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