Email + Social Integration: It's About Testing, Not Technology

For a while, the concept of email + social integration was limited to discussions about how to use email to bolster your social media programs, and vice versa. The early recommendations weren’t for integration as much as they were for coordination, to make sure your email self knows what your social self is up to. Fast-forward a year, and now there are bona fide integration tools hitting the market: technology that allows marketers to track the response to social messages (likes, comments, retweets, clicks, even conversion) right alongside email, and measure the contribution that each channel makes towards marketing objectives.

It’s easy to get drawn into the technology and spend hours poring over tracking reports that show what percentage of the clicks to that webinar promotion came from Twitter as opposed to email, or if your mobile audience is reaching you more from the inbox or Facebook. That’s the first step in adopting any new marketing technology: learning what you can learn. It’s energizing and fun, and flings previously hidden doors wide open.

But we’re email marketers, so the real appeal is not merely finding new data points to share in the weekly marketing meeting. We suddenly have a litany of new tests to devise and run. Email + social integration technology can meaningfully improve our marketing. All we have to do is approach it with the same curiosity and analysis that have allowed us to achieve such a remarkable ROI from email over the years. So let’s do that.

Scale objectives to your organization: The principal reason definitive “best practices” will remain elusive in email + social is because the relative audience size of organizations’ email list and social followers varies significantly. Some organizations have hundreds of thousands of email subscribers and 5,000 Facebook fans. Others have 7 million fans but under a hundred thousand subscribers. What you measure should be a function of what you want to achieve with email + social, which comes down to the relative strategic importance of each channel. Is your aim to use email to lift your social results, use social to improve your email, or find new ways that email + social can work together to improve marketing holistically?

Identify key metrics: Once you decide on your objective, it’s time to figure out the (all new) key metrics to track. For example, you’ll be able to measure the average click rate per audience member across channels, to determine a direct response exchange rate between social audiences and email subscribers. Normalizing for frequency will be important as well; many organizations tweet several times per day or more, and email far less frequently. So metrics that measure clicks or other engagement should be analyzed over a period of time instead of per message. (You may have a smaller Twitter audience that generates fewer clicks to your weekly sale than your weekly email, but you can hit this Twitter audience 12 times over the course of the week -- how do those total clicks then stack up to that one-time email?)

Now test something already: Every new metric gets you a little smarter about how email + social work together, but regimented tests are necessary to build credible hypotheses that we can challenge more aggressively. Test examples might be taking an A/B split of email list and measuring response to email before and after social activity on the same topic. Or reversing the test, and tweeting on a topic, then emailing, and tweeting again afterwards to see which tweet drives more response. Do successful tweets make good subject lines? Can you lift the impact of newsletters by using social media to tease them, or by linking Web versions of them in Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn? The tests you can devise are limited only by your own creativity, though ought to be guided by your objectives as well.

Repeat tests redundantly again too: There are more variables in email + social than in email alone, not the least of which is the temporal nature of social content. Social content is not sticky like email, waiting around in a queue for its recipient to open, click or otherwise triage. For this reason, much email + social learning will be based on finding some consistency in the social component, or having enough trials to average out the inconsistency and turn it into actual learning. Early tests will reveal some data to help you crystallize hypotheses, but I think far more repeats will be necessary before you can draw strong conclusions. And even then, your relative audience sizes and engagement levels in all channels will ebb and flow, so you will have to continually challenge your previous findings with new tests.

The most powerful learning for an organization, then, will not be to figure out which email + social tactics produce the best results today, but rather to develop the flexibility and processes to continually test and learn so that results continue to improve despite the changing landscape. As email marketers, the test-hypothesize-retest-challenge protocol is already part of our culture. It’s just one more reason I think email marketers are uniquely qualified to succeed in social.

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