In the increasingly hard‑fought battle for the killer medium to grab consumers’ attention, e-mail and social media work best as brothers in arms, not arch enemies.
1. E-mail is dying,
or so some would have you believe, often citing a Gartner report now infamous among e-mail marketers as evidence. Gartner’s web 2.0 revolutionaries envisage e-mail being swept away by the encroaching social media tide. The report, Predicts 2010: Social software is an enterprise reality, says that social networking will replace e-mail as the primary communication channel for 20 per cent of business users by 2014.
Though predictions of the death of e-mail may seem premature, it would be wrong to dismiss the sentiment out of hand. Consumers seem to be showing signs of “e-mail fatigue” – hardly surprising if, as IT security provider Symantec estimates, 92 per cent of all e-mail is spam. The July 2010 E-mail marketing metrics report from MailerMailer reveals that average e-mail open rates have fallen consistently since the second half of 2007. And a recent Nielsen study found e-mail’s share of internet users’ time has declined by 28 per cent since June 2009, while social media increased its share by 43 per cent.
So do e-mail marketers have cause for concern? Jim Wehmann, senior vice‑president of global marketing for Digital River, says not. “People thought the PC would dramatically decrease the use of paper in offices, but it caused paper consumption to explode,” he says. “In much the same way, people who assume social media will significantly decrease the use of e-mail are likely to be proven wrong.”
Wehmann says that social media sites can’t exist without e-mail. “Sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn rely on e-mail communication between friends and associates, in addition to their web-based interfaces.” This is backed by Nielsen’s findings that heavy social media consumers are also the biggest e-mail users.
Far from fearing social media, e-mail marketers should be excited by the potential it has for improving their campaigns. “It can actually be very complimentary in many important ways,” says Wehmann. “It represents a big opportunity to increase e-mail sign ups, extend reach and improve performance.”
2. We love to share
A simple way to enhance an e-mail campaign with social media is to embed “sharing icons” in your communications. These links allow recipients to share content with whole social networks with one mouse click. Many e-mail service providers have the functionality to do this very quickly and easily. MailChimp allows users to add more than 20 social sharing icons via “drag and drop”.
GetResponse’s E-mail marketing and social media integration report suggests this is a worthwhile tactic for increasing e-mail reach. Including three or more social sharing icons increased average click-through rates from 7.2 per cent to 11.2 per cent, the study of 500m e-mails showed.
But sharing icons are not sufficient on their own, says Pure360 marketing manager and CIM member Abi Clowes. “Content must be relevant and compelling, people won’t share via social channels if the content doesn’t pique their interest.”
ExactTarget managing director Nigel Arthur agrees this is crucial to creating a socially successful e-mail. “Marketers must create shareable ‘content bait’,” he says. “It’s easy to include share buttons in your e-mails but delivering content consumers want to share is more challenging.”
A special low-fares e-mail offer by East Coast Trains hit the spot with consumers. “The offer was shared on Digg, Facebook and MySpace,” says Sara Borland, brand communication manager for East Coast Trains. “Of those who shared the e-mail, 17 per cent generated at least one further opening, and 33 per cent of those opening it clicked on the post. These are people we otherwise might never have reached.”
3. Spot cheerleaders
It is now possible to track an e-mail’s journey out of the inbox and on to various social networks. Paul Creamer, chief technology officer at Smartfocus, says: “A code is embedded within a campaign sent via e-mail and can be tracked so that when recipients share the content we can track its spread.”
“Tracking the level of sharing and subsequent opens and clicks on shared e-mails provides an understanding of what type of content is resonating best from a sharing perspective,” says Loren McDonald, vice-president of industry relations at online marketing company Silverpop. “These metrics also help you identify your most active sharers and target them with specialised content.”
MailChimp is leading the way in developing tools that enable such targeting. As well as ranking subscribers by social influence, the e-mail service provider’s Social Pro add-on allows users to integrate the Facebook “like” button into campaigns and track the number of “likes” their content receives from subscribers and their friends. It is also possible to collect subscriber information that is useful for segmentation, such as location, age and gender.
A variety of widgets and apps mean marketers can now build mailing lists directly from social network pages as well as their websites. Constant Contact has a “Join my mailing list” Facebook app and VerticalResponse boasts an e-mail sign up widget for TypePad blogs. “Tracking this source of e-mail data capture provides the basis for target messaging to an audience you already know is engaged in social media,” says Digital River’s Wehmann.
4. Video grabs attention
E-mail analytics firm Litmus recently reported that 51 per cent of opened e-mails are deleted within two seconds. Social media could provide marketers with the tools to regain their customers’ attention.
One of the biggest success stories of the social web is video sharing behemoth YouTube. With two billion playbacks a day, the compelling nature of video is clear for all to see. But until recently technology limited the use of video in e-mail to only animated gifs or links to landing pages. New technology makes it possible to stream video within an e-mail browser, beginning the moment the recipient clicks “open”.
“Video in e-mail not only holds consumers’ attention for longer periods of time, but also captures their attention in an instant,” says Steve Lomax, managing director EMEA, Experian CheetahMail.
“With improved technology at our disposal the process for putting video into e-mail is increasingly straightforward,” he says. “The video is configured, compressed and encoded so that it renders in e-mail browsers, ensuring compatibility with 90 per cent of platforms, including Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail, AOL and iPhones.”
HMV used this technology to deliver a video e-mail campaign for the launch of the new AR Drone quadricopter. HMV e-commerce manager Kevin Hurst says: “It struck me how much the product would be a great fit for video e-mail. It’s a cool gadget that I felt text and images alone wouldn’t do justice – you need to see it in action.”
“Our average click-through rate tripled and we’ve seen more customers than ever forwarding the e-mail to friends and sharing it with their social networks,” Hurst says. “Better still, there was a very substantial uplift in online pre-orders for the drone, which began kicking in as soon as the e-mail went out – no mean feat when you consider it has a £299.99 price tag.”
John Manning – Marketer’s editorial/ web assistant