Email-Social Integration: Past, Present and Future

I have been working to encourage more email marketers to integrate email and social for at least five years (and writing about it since 2009). Where are we now in 2013? The results are all over the board.

Some email marketers coordinate their email and social media so that each channel helps the other be more engaging and valuable to subscribers and followers and better achieve marketing goals. Others make a token effort by including a few social network icons in their email templates. The rest treat email and social like walled gardens.

Why Don't Marketers Think Outside the Channel?

Siloed goals and structure can be one reason. The marketing team member responsible for email marketing might share the same boss as the social media manager, but they probably lack common goals, initiatives and success metrics.

Or, the marketing team is still defining the strategic goals of its email-marketing or social marketing program and hasn't come to understand or establish the integration points between the two channels.

If you struggle under either of this scenarios, perhaps the following five concepts of email and social integration might help you clarify the role each plays in your marketing program and point you in the right direction to come up with a working strategy.

5 Elements of Email-Social Integration

1. Sharing email content into social streams. "Share to social" or "share with your network" was the first foray into email-social integration for many marketers, and is the only one of these five elements to go mainstream.

A study we did in 2011 of 500 top retailers found more than seven out of 10 included either social-sharing or "Like/Follow" links in their emails.

It's a good opening tactic for email-social integration. However, too many marketers just slap icons into their email messages and then cross their fingers. Not surprisingly, most saw share or follow rates fall into the same poor neighborhood as their click-throughs on forward-to-a-friend links.

What's missing?

  • The kind of shareworthy content that compels people to share it socially. Why would someone share your promotional email featuring eight diverse baking ingredients? A message whose only purpose is to invite readers and their friends to show off their holiday bakery on your Facebook page will get more shares.
  • A reason to connect with you in social networks where your customers are most active and that make the most sense for you.

2. Email acquisition via social channels. Email and social are natural allies, but many marketers don't try to use their social channels to promote email subscriptions.

Facebook provides the most direct option, enabling a Timeline promotion and link to an email opt-in form. In a 2010 study I conducted, however, only 1 in 10 marketers took advantage of this opportunity.

3. Socializing your email content. Cross-pollinating your email and social content is another essential element to bring the channels together. The easiest approach, which has also seen the greatest adoption, is simply to humanize your email content.

Companies incorporate employee personas and content, humor or user-generated content and feedback. More savvy marketers automate customer social content or reviews from feeds dynamically into their emails. More marketers will adopt this approach as technology integrations between systems become commonplace.

4. Using social sign-in for account registration/opt-in. Social sign-in allows site visitors to register and log in quickly using their social network identity without having to fill out multiple form fields.

This way, marketers can capture customer data such as location, birthdate, gender and other information that they might not collect elsewhere, and create more-relevant messages for r customers.

As mobile adoption grows, more consumers will opt for one-tap sign-up processes over typing data form fields with their big fingers.

5. Social CRM. This will be the sweet spot of email-social integration someday: combining customer profiles, behavior and social activity and having that union drive content for emails with off-the-charts relevance.

For example, you could insert a dynamic section of content, such as a coupon or badge, into emails for customers who have shown positive social engagement with your brand that month.

A second, emerging aspect is to leverage email and other digital behaviors that then feed back into other message channels, such as SMS and Twitter.

I'd love to hear how your company is managing email-social integration. Have any triumphs to share – or special challenges to overcome? I welcome your comments below.

Until next time, take it up a notch!

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2 comments about "Email-Social Integration: Past, Present and Future ".
  1. Katherine Raz from Signal , January 24, 2013 at 1:56 p.m.
    Great post. At Signal, we've been saying this for years. People tend to treat these marketing channels as separate silos, when customers prefer an integrated experience across all channels -- one that recognizes, "Hey! You're our Facebook fan, too. Great. Here's another coupon." Social CRM is key. I think part of the reason marketers DON'T embrace this is because they're behind on the technology that allows them to view their customer contacts in a single database/timeline. If they could have the power to email everyone, say, who is already a Facebook fan -- you can come up with some pretty creative email campaigns around that idea. The technology IS out there that allows you the control to create better campaigns -- it's just a matter of thinking creatively enough to go beyond just sticking social links in emails and links to your email campaigns on Twitter.
  2. Chad White from Salesforce ExactTarget Marketing Cloud , January 28, 2013 at 11:03 a.m.
    While email subscribers are ripe to be social media followers, I'm not convinced that the reverse is true. I've actually heard of brands shutting down this email acquisition channel because it attracts low-value subscribers. This may not be the big missed opportunity that we think it is.