Much discussion exists on whether or not email is going to “die”… Let’s summarise this before focusing on the more important best practices and how email communication can become the more powerful “social email”.
(Reading between the lines this means we believe that email is here to stay but that its purpose and use will change. It will not die as a medium, nor was it ever going to- bloggers are just increasingly good at headline grabbing.)
Despite the massive growth in social media most people will still be using email in the future for work and business purposes for many years to come. One of the reasons touted by marketing professionals that email will never die is that email systems sold are owned or leased, but in both cases communication is controlled by the company. Social media like Facebook or other public network will not replace email in this light as a communication platform because businesses must have ownership of their own communication for competitive and a host of legal reasons.
However a game changer for this idea today is that it is easy to create a closed, “walled garden” social network, where a company owns the data. Long standing Ning, and Social Engine provide a technology platform that works with a company’s own servers. while companies like US outfit Pearsestreet provide bespoke builds now for the same price as a website.
As with most social networks technology includes messaging functionality that is easily viewed as interchangeable and replace email. Messages can easily be sent within the network or to external email systems as with any other email provider.
Physical direct mail costs 20x the amount as email
Research shows that email is still the most cost effective form of direct marketing (physical direct mail costs 20x the amount as email). Social media is not an acceptable replacement for direct marketing and the majority is unlikely to be without a clear consumer trade off.
People’s expectations are set for social media to be relational, conversation. The bar and party environment and not the work one. The tone of direct marketing would be overtly sales in nature and tends to fail on social media. So email and social media are completely different in their use, how people receive it and their functionality.
As a medium that tends to be used most frequently at work email is especially powerful for business to business companies and communication. However this also means that people tend to be more fussy about which emails they open and read. At work there is less time to leisurely read a long email. Through the main it is used as a method of keeping people up to date with the latest news, whether this is from a company they have bought from or a news source they trust.
In summary email:
Helps businesses own their communication and keep customers up to date
Is the most cost effective form of direct marketing
Is the most powerful tool for B2B marketers, as most people at work use email
People open email from people they know and trust and so it is important to be clearly identifiable and to use the power of social media to collect email addresses and tell them when you will be emailing them so they expect your email and be responsive to it.
Time and time again it is proven that for marketing to work today it must add value in its own right and not just link back to your products/ services. Promises are not enough, as too many are broken. People expect to receive something of value as a taster and confidence booster that something even better is to come.
A value proposition is needed at every stage of a customer nurturing process.
With this in mind it is important to stick to the rules and best practice guideline to ensure that this message and proposition reaches the recipients. It must also follow the anti-SPAM rules of email and be of specific use to the reader.
Research by Constant Contact suggests the following 10 dos and don’ts :
1. Make sure your emails position you or your brand as the “professional” or market leader in any given sector
2. Match your email with your brand imagery as much as possible
3. Ensure you have a “view as webpage” link that takes people to an online version of the email if people have images turned off
4. Use a professional tool rather than a desktop software (outlook, Eudora etcf) or online email (Hotmail, Gmail etc) service to ensure delivery of your email. Free email accounts are far more often viewed as SPAM
5. Never pick up business cards at an event and add people to your email marketing list without getting their approval beforehand.
6. Ensure you provide a way for people to sign up to future email communication on all online channels, % including your email signature.
7. Use a forward to friend button on the email to drive new subscribers
8. Ensure your company or brand is in the “From” line (60% of customers will not open the email unless they recognise the name in the “From” line
9. Track as much of the interaction on your emails as possible to optimise future emails as much as possible
10. Create a call to action to ensure that you help consumers move to the next stage of the purchasing process
Application to Social Marketing Strategy
We have discussed how social media can help businesses build their list of contacts here. Contacts collected in social media can be used in email campaign with the right permissions. Creating groups based on different interests, location or any other useful variable enable a more tailored message to be created.
The latest email technology have introduced “merge tags” that enable information to be pulled from the email contacts database to make the email personal. It is possible to automatically add content to emails based on their location, name and other variables.
Suddenly you have an email with your name on, a special offer relevant to where you live and other content specific to your interests.
However the love link between social media and email can be far deeper than that.
Newsletters are a way to keep the conversation going by reaching people with what is considered a personal communication medium. News and other related content provides the opportunity for call to actions to be included within the email and encourage people to do something next.
More and more companies are using email to build an ongoing relationship with customers through newsletters. The primary strategy used is to remind customers of the company’s existence and deliver enough useful content with special offers to encourage people to become new and loyal customers.
Social media also provides this relationship nurturing potential. As such with effective planning and understand of what motivates your target audience they can be used together. Done well this has the huge potential to create a stronger relationship and enable brands to be present where ever their customers are online.
However intelligent this might be in relation to the “mind share” that is occupied in relation to the competition, relevance and value are still key. People will soon tire of communication from one company being seen over and over again on different media and people will quickly shut it down. A balance is necessary.
This is where solid strategy comes in.
Social Media and email communication can become mutual drivers as well as sources of content for each other. This provides a great opportunity for content to become cyclical and develop over time across different channels to create an ongoing dialogue with consumers.
This is a new story and one that is continuing to unravel as new ways are being discovered as to how different media can help continue the consumer journey, as well as boost results across whole campaigns and activity.
The truth is that newsletters are now scanned and provide the “headlines”, but then must drive and encourage action on social media. This is where people are most likely to reach out and connect with companies and find out about the merits of their products/ services in a way that will lead to sales.
As email providers like constant contact are finding, email is a tool to remind and reactivate readers. It is a way to rekindle the relationship with potential customers, while social is the platform that relationship is built upon.
As such the key to successful email communication today is by establishing why it is of “value”. This doesn’t need to be a money off voucher, but can be content that people are genuinely interested in.
A product with genuine interest appeal will therefore have a definite head start. Redbull on the other hand just created their own interest hook based on the sponsorship of extreme sport.
Either way this content or value must then extend into the medium that it is linking to. This inherently makes the “customer voice” particularly relevant in the social email, as linking to the topic on a forum for example would then make sense. This also provides a host of new avenues for creating content or discussion within the forum targeting visitors from the newsletter.
Explicit linking here is important as it shows that the content is indeed meant for them.
Researching and actively showing your customers you care is one great way of continuing the conversation. Asking for direct feedback etc. Another is by directly sharing the voice and concerns of your customers by making them the champions of the brand. This is easily done via social media as it is relatively easy to connect with customers directly and ask if they would mind being featured in a newsletter.
Ultimately any useful comments, opinions, requests, product suggestions, customer service issues that turn public can all be turned into email content. The resulting content doesn’t even need to be limited to newsletters.
Perhaps a new range or product update sparks a significant social media conversation. If enough feedback is received to be considered a key marketing or business issue then an additional email might be sent to provide an update, reassurance or gather additional views.
Content created by customers or the company on social media is prime social email content that can help push the conversation to a wider audience.
The use of user generated content in email is powerful. Yet fundamentally the most important part of a social email strategy is to create communication that encourages the reader to take a subsequent action. What action this takes should depend on the stage readers are at in the buying process and the nature of their relationship with the business. People are unlikely to buy a product from the first email they receive.
At the most basic level social links need adding to emails. These links are fundamental and standard practice today. Yet the links that are used are often the least relevant.
On company emails and employee signatures for example “follow” or “connect” links need adding so that the reader can find and connect with the company profiles on social media. When sending content rich emails however “share” buttons should be used to extend the reach of the content being shared.
Tailoring social email is more essential than traditional email as the tone needed is more personal and specific than a “business update newsletter”. The benefit of this is higher response and engagement rates. Yet achieving this requires a greater level of content production, data segmentation and intelligence.
What makes social email unique is the way content writers should be using content taken from social media. Reformatting this content in a way that it creates participation. An image of an online calendar might be used and provide the link to an online calendar that pre-sets a specific time for an “Exclusive online seminar”. More advanced applications of this is the combination of purchase information. If a paint supplier had already identified that a customer had purchased from the “Angel Gloss” range. An image of this range with a specific discount code for a subsequent purchase of the same range.
Date of birth information might trigger a Happy Birthday email that asks the recipient to pick up a free bottle of bubbly if they share their Facebook application to 5 friends.
The sky is the limit in what can be imagined creatively. The increasing sophistication of technology will only allow for more personal variables like interests and affiliations to become sources of dynamic content for email.
However the most powerful content combination is likely to remain a balance of sales/ objective orientated topics and those of most interest to the community (the most active discussions for example) on social media.