I’m not letting anybody in on some big secret when I say that social media is the next great communication channel. We email marketers love it because it reminds us of our inbox comfort zone in so many ways: it is inexpensive and scalable, provides immediate response and feedback, is able to be managed by our existing in-house resources, and promises tremendous ROI.
Social is also similar to email in that it is permission-based. As email marketers, we already have the skills needed to earn an audience over time, develop content strategies to keep them involved, and suffer the consequences of abusing the attention our audience has given us. Sure, the tactics we employ to do all this in social media are very different from the ways we operate in email, but the strategy and skillset are the same.
Combining email and social media has become a sort of Holy Grail quest for marketers and the vendors who support them. It is an apt analogy. Combining the conversation and social spreading power of social media with the analytics and visibility of email would lend some much needed accountability to social media, increasing its adoption among companies that rely principally on email and earning it a protected line item status in the budget. As marketers, it’s easy to love the potential of social media, but hard to quantify what resources to allocate to it until metrics comparing email to social are available.
These analytics tools to integrate and measure email and social are now starting to appear on the market, and I expect the conversation will quickly turn from SWYN and “Use email to grow your social audience and vice versa” towards a new round of engaging tales of integrated communications.
We could all use some guidance on what to look for and how to use these new tools, so I’d love to write that helpful article. The only trouble is that I can’t -- I don’t know yet what tactics will work well, and which won’t bear fruit because the tools are so new and the metrics they provide are unprecedented.
Instead, maybe it’s worthwhile to spend some time on what email and social integration will not look like, so we don’t look like Monty Python in our quest for marketing’s greatest treasure.
Here are some things that we can’t do with the next round of email + social integration:
Improve customer engagement intelligence. Social analytics can provide a lot of intelligence on what messages are generating responses, but fall well short of email in their capacity to identify who in particular is responding. Yes, you can see who on your page and feed is liking this or retweeting that, but this amounts to anecdotal information, not institutionalized learning in the way our subscriber email metrics show up. There is no automated way to identify who from your email list is interacting (or even following) you socially, or vice versa. If you want to tag social activity back to a customer database, you need to do it manually. For most marketers, this means it won’t be done.
Combine email’s targeting with social’s warm brand-fuzziness. One challenge with social media is that targeting is difficult. It’s true that on Facebook you can restrict status updates to custom segments of a page’s fans, but other than geography, how do you go about and create meaningful segments? With email, it’s easy to segment based on previous message responders (or non-responders), past customers, or any other attributes you collect and attach to a record.
In social media, there is no such record you have access to. And if you did, would you use it? Targeting in a social context is tantamount to filtering, or limiting the number of people who can interact with your message and spread it around. For most marketers, that outcome truncates the whole social value proposition. So, no, this isn’t part of the email + social Holy Grail either.
Analyze the same metrics across all channels. It would at least be great to compare social media using the same metrics we’ve grown accustomed to in email, like delivery, open rate and click-through, right? That’s not on the near-term horizon either. Of that list, only click-through is a common denominator across the inbox, Facebook and Twitter. (Facebook’s Insights are improving with respect to communicating how many people are seeing content, which is a suitable proxy for Email Opens. But I don’t know if this will be available through an API for external integration.)
By using a tracking URL for each channel that ties back to an integrated analytics platform, it is possible to see how many clicks for a given message are coming from email, Facebook and Twitter respectively. But even here marketers have to think of the channels differently. With email, each recipient gets a unique tracking URL, so the aggregate metrics are a roll-up of all the activity around a given link or message across all subscribers. With social media, it is a single tracking URL per channel, whether there are 10 fans and followers or 10,000. There is no way to know how many of the clicks come from unique DNA, or how many come from outside the fan and follower base.
It’s worth pointing out that nobody ever found the Holy Grail. (Indiana Jones doesn’t count, and Monty Python isn’t exactly revered for their marketing best practices.) Similarly, we should focus on the new possibilities email + social integration do open up for us, instead of hunting for a treasure that will never be found. I don’t know about you, but when it comes to marketing, I’ll take good tactics over a hidden treasure any day.