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Guest comment: Social media baits email marketing's hook

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by John Hayes

Around six months ago Mark Zuckerberg was misquoted as saying “email is dead”. At the time he was announcing Facebook’s new messaging system – a platform which collectively hosts texts, instant messages, social media activity and email, allowing users to communicate with each other by whichever means suits them best.

Undoubtedly there will be convergence across messaging systems and there is even some truth in Zuckerberg’s comments suggesting that email will go the same way as the letter and be seen as a more formal method of communication.

However, far from being the premature death knell of email, it is the convergence of messaging systems and the formality afforded to email that is actually breathing new life into the medium. Add to this the low costs and high returns normally associated with email, suiting the current economic climate perfectly, and there has never been a better time to be involved in email marketing.

Despite increased competition for marketing spend, email marketing has continued to enjoy rapid growth in 2011, outpacing both paid search and SEO (search engine optimisation), and is widely accepted as being the most affordable and profitable way to reach prospects and customers. A recent survey conducted by eConsultancy suggests that 63% of companies using email marketing saw an return on investment of greater than 300%

Ideally email marketing and social media activity should sit together, complement and cross-pollinate each other. Marketers should be using email to drive social media acquisition and vice versa and then exploiting each channel’s strengths to maximum effect.

Whereas social media’s strength allows a brand to maintain a casual presence amongst a user’s daily interactions with friends, colleagues and family it is not the ideal environment to be overtly salesy. Despite this very few retailers have grasped this concept and continue to thrust special offers, voucher codes and new product lines at their 'friends' and followers relentlessly.

Retailers who get social media understand how to craft campaigns carefully by aligning products with events, news, gossip and general chit-chat. Their posts are entertaining, witty and encourage discussion around the brand whilst gently suggesting products their 'friends' might like. By doing this they reduce the risk of appearing overbearing to their followers who welcome their involvement within their social network despite varied interests across their product range.

More sophisticated retailers might host multiple social media presences covering sales, customer services, news and corporate messaging. However, with many organisations still testing the water, they are the exception rather than the rule.

Email’s strength lies in the fact it is invited and therefore welcome (as well as extremely cost effective). The ease with which a subscriber can opt-in and out of receiving emails ensures unwanted email does not tarnish your brand. Carefully segmented lists mean that retailers can afford to get straight to the point and promote products and services with a direct sales message. Having a well-segmented list should also mean you are sending out high-frequency campaigns whilst not clogging up subscribers’ in-boxes. The in-box environment also ensures emails are kept and can be referenced multiple times rather than hoping to grab attention on an ever moving wall of comments on a social network.

By co-managing your email and social activity you are able to optimise the frequency of touch-points with your customers without being too obtrusive. In an ideal world your social network should closely match the names in your email list to guarantee maximum effect.

Email complements social activity and delivers a point in the conversation with your customers where you can ask for the sale. It could just be the killer app in your social media arsenal you’ve been looking for.

John Hayes is the EMEA business development executive with iContact.

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