Expanding Email Reach Via Social Networks

Some email marketers say that the growth of social media directly challenges email's supremacy for communication. To me, now is a prime opportunity to expand the subscriber relationship to incorporate community, content sharing, feedback and user-generated content.

Why Social Media, Why Now?

This succinct explanation comes from the new book Groundswell, published by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff of Forrester Research:

"Right now, your customers are writing about your products on blogs and recutting your commercials on YouTube. They're defining you on Wikipedia and ganging up on you on social networking sites like Facebook. These are all elements of a social phenomenon--the groundswell--that has created a permanent shift in the way the world works. You can see it as an opportunity."

Recent studies show this shift:

  • 42 percent of adults 18-65 now know what social media is (Synovate study, June 2008)

  • 58.5 percent of college students use social media daily, up from 32.8 percent in 2006 (EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research, August 2008)



  • In June 2008, had 132 million unique visitors, a 153 percent increase over June 2007 (comScore World Metrix)

  Integrating Email with Social Media

Three aspects of social media integrate well with email:

1. User Community/User-generated content: Readers post information and experiences about your products or comments content on your Web site, which you can reprint, with permission, in your emails. For example, MediaPost, which publishes this column, produces a "Letters to the Editor" newsletter that aggregates selected comments and CNET produces a "Community Help & How-to" newsletter that aggregates answers and suggestions from its Web site.

2. Reviews/ratings/popularity: Your customers can decide which product to buy or which article to read based on popularity (top sellers, most read or forwarded) with statistics posted in your emails.

3. Sharing and viral content: Email has always been viral, whether users just forward your messages on or use your forward-to-a-friend function. But the forward rate is typically very low--maybe 0.1 percent without incentives to a few percent or more with incentives.

Adding a forwarding request or a link to your Web forwarding form might move the needle a little, but neither solves some basic problems:

  • Sending to a large group of forwardees takes a lot of time for the recipient.

  • Some recipients worry that companies will spam their friends if they use a Web form.

  • Forwarding from the email client can break your HTML.

  • Actions on forwarded email can be difficult to track.

Email Social Media-Sharing Case Study

  Incorporating a "share" capability in your emails solves these email-forwarding weaknesses. We at Silverpop are in the final stages of beta-testing a "share to social" feature--a one-click button that lets readers post an article headline, description and link to the Web version of an email on their social-network pages (MySpace and Facebook for now, with more to come).

  GodTube, a Christian video social network and a client, has been testing this social-sharing feature and has seen some encouraging results so far. Here are the results of a recent email test:

  • 13 percent of the clicks in the email were on the Social Share buttons (Facebook and MySpace)

  • 611 of the recipients who opened the email posted the summary on their social-network pages, exposing it to an estimated additional 60,000-plus people.

  • 1,250 friends of the sharers clicked on the email summary link and viewed the full email. This was 2.5 times GodTube's typical viral reach from the Forward-to-a-Friend function.

GodTube increased its email reach significantly with only a little extra effort and zero additional cost. As adoption of social networks and awareness of social-sharing features increases, we think that email "share to social" can deliver what organic forward-to-a-friend always promised--but never quite delivered.

Why Integrate Email and Social?

  Retooling your email program for social media has these benefits:

  • Your readers can generate buzz and brand awareness when they post your messages in personal spaces where they have control of content and trust of friends. A positive personal endorsement from a friend is the best possible introduction to your brand that you could hope for.

  • Exposing your email program to new audiences can build your email list.

  • You encourage more reader interest and involvement, which builds relevance and anticipation--both of which build inbox recognition.

  • All of these together can lead to greater ROI without significantly greater expense.

  Some Social-Sharing Best Practices

  Although social sharing of email is an emerging concept, it's not too early to think about best practices and how to use the data you can collect. Here are a few observations:

  1. Educate your subscribers. Don't just drop a button into an email and expect it to take off. Highlight it in your welcome emails and regular mailings.

  2. Group all your viral features to capture both social networkers and email forwarders.

3. Don't despair if the clicks come slowly. A list full of 20-somethings will likely take to it faster than a B-to-B list of C-level executives who are not as plugged in.

4. See what types of messages get reposted most often, and as appropriate, tailor your content to encourage more sharing.

5. Consider designating specific messages to focus specifically on social sharing and list building. Design the emails from the subject line to the offer, copy and sharing link placement to encourage sharing--particularly from your most influential sharers.

6. Your most avid sharers will likely be responsible for a large share of your additional views. Understand who they are, what motivates them, and how they differ from your general subscribers--and then give them content they are most likely to repost.

Although we have much to learn and discover, the opportunities in social media are becoming clearer. It's time for all of us in the email world to get off the sidelines and into the fray. The use of social networks is clearly replacing certain types of consumer-to-consumer emails--but conversely, they are only opening up new opportunities for BtoB and BtoC email communications.

Have you tried any initiatives to corral social media in your email program? I would love to hear what you're doing and what results you're seeing.

Until them, take it up a notch!

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