Social Networking and E-mail Marketing Converge

  |  March 7, 2008   |  Comments

Why traditional e-mail service providers must adapt to social media platforms.

I wanted to send an e-mail to a bunch of friends last week. I opened Outlook and started typing their names in the recipient address box. I assumed Outlook would finish their names and fill in their e-mail addresses. It didn't. Then I realized that they were all Facebook friends, and I didn't even know their e-mail addresses.

If I can't e-mail them directly (and I am their friend!), how will a company reach these non-e-mail-centric people? Even if a company knows the e-mail addresses for these people, isn't e-mail an even less effective channel for it than it is for me? For the older generation of Internet users, e-mail programs like Outlook are our main dashboard. The newer generation, however, has replaced e-mail programs with social networks. Sending messages, planning events, and sharing files and photos are all done on a unified social media platform like Facebook. Today we'll look at how smart marketers are evolving to embrace this new market.

Traditional e-mail marketing is a very mature science. E-mail service providers (ESPs) provide robust tools to get your message across to someone. This includes full multistage campaigning, A/B split testing, and personalization tied to user preferences and actual online behavior. Because ESPs are focused on the art and science of e-mail, however, they miss a larger picture that might threaten their very existence: some of the most desirable markets online today hardly use e-mail.

To evolve, ESPs must think of themselves as CSPs: communication service providers. Their function isn't to get e-mail to someone but to deliver your company's message to the receiver in whatever way required to reach that person. Perhaps that's traditional e-mail, or maybe it's an RSS feed or a desktop widget. Or maybe it's via a social network.

Currently, a few companies have realized that posting to a user's Facebook News Feed might be an interesting marketing idea. Fandango gives customers the option of whether it posts movie tickets purchased on its site to their Facebook accounts. If your friends are watching your feed, they can see you made this purchase. That's great marketing for Fandango. But that's not enough if Facebook is truly replacing its e-mail marketing in favor of Facebook marketing. The marketing tools behind what gets posted to your News Feed, who gets to see it, and how you interact with it need to be as robust as current marketing tools. The tools must have all the standard ESP tools (multistage campaigns, split testing, personalization) in them and execute them over Facebook instead of through e-mail.

For example, I subscribe to CNN Breaking News Alerts via e-mail. The other night I came home to find about 20 breaking news messages. Every time a polling location closed, CNN sent an alert about the fact that voting was done, then another identifying the projected winners in each region, and a final one detailing the actual winners in each region. My inbox was full of these messages -- and not all were news anymore, because I'd been watching the results come in. Plus, I didn't need the play-by-play after the fact: the results were enough.

The folks at Datran Media have a different idea. They think I should be able to have my breaking alerts sent to my Facebook News Feed instead of in my inbox. I love this idea for a couple of reasons. First, it means I get less e-mail. Second, if I'm traveling and not checking e-mail a lot, these news stories are no longer new and important but still clutter my inbox. If these feeds were part of the Facebook News Feed, they'd automatically display only if they were current (because the News Feed is chronological), and I wouldn't have a backlog of stagnant e-mail to deal with. I could always look at older days in the News Feed if I really cared. Third, I might not be an e-mail-centric user anymore. So breaking alerts might actually get to me faster via Facebook than via e-mail.

Currently, most e-mail has a "send to a friend" feature. But what if you don't have the e-mail addresses of most of your friends anymore? Maybe I'd love to send your sales notice to my friends. I'm physically unable to do that within Outlook anymore, yet I could do it in Facebook. Facebook already lets me post anything I can see to my profile or News Feed for others to see. The viral component is built in to these networks, so everything is potentially viral.

Additionally, News Feed messages can be private (i.e., just sent to you) or public (i.e., sent to anyone who has access to your News Feed). In the Fandango example, I can tell it to publish news about my ticket purchases to everyone who gets my News Feed. But a retail company is more apt to want to serve a personalized, private message to each user based on user preferences and A/B testing.

Fantasy or Reality?

While it certainly sounds good, don't call your ESP this afternoon to tell them this week's e-mail should be reconfigured to work in Facebook's News Feed instead. It'll be a while before these companies retool their systems to accomplish the task. To my knowledge, Datran Media is the only company doing this now. Though other marketing companies certainly have the ability to post one-off messages to Facebook, Datran is different. Its Facebook integration is truly an integration. It's added the Facebook channel to its existing suite of tools, including personalization, testing, and analytics.

It won't be long before all ESPs realize they need to be CSPs. The age-old dream of e-mail has been the right message to right person at right time. Over the past few years, "right channel" has been creeping into this phrase. As a channel, social media platforms are a necessary, integral next step for traditional ESPs. A true multichannel campaign might include postal mail, e-mail, and social media platforms, all combined. This means your social media capability can't be a one-off news posting. It must be a fully integrated part of your messaging platform.

Questions, thoughts, comments? Let me know!

Until next time...


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Jack Aaronson

Jack Aaronson, CEO of The Aaronson Group and corporate lecturer, is a sought-after expert on enhanced user experiences, customer conversion, retention, and loyalty. If only a small percentage of people who arrive at your home page transact with your company (and even fewer return to transact again), Jack and his company can help. He also publishes a newsletter about multichannel marketing, personalization, user experience, and other related issues. He has keynoted most major marketing conferences around the world and regularly speaks at and other major industry shows. You can learn more about Jack through his LinkedIn profile.

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