E-mail Is Social

Remember in the “The Matrix” when Keanu is trying to figure out how those telekinetic kids are moving objects with their mind, then one of them gives him the secret? “There is no spoon.” Well, that’s what I keep thinking every time I hear someone say “Social is killing e-mail.” It’s just a mindset; it’s not fact or even reality in the way they are articulating. We just have to change our way of thinking. I think it’s time to “bend the spoon” in the other direction:

E-mail is social.

I don’t mean e-mail is a way to be social or is “just as good as” social, I mean it is social. You could even argue it was the first “social network,” or at least the first way to be social on the Internet.

Let’s look at how we, as e-mail marketers, have been managing social campaigns for years.

Right now, we are managing a group of users a brand has collected (CRM database). These users are presumably fans of the brand, and some of their most loyal customers. The way e-mail is set up, a message goes out from the brand and hits each individual, and since we don’t share the distribution list, individuals don’t share with each other (knowingly), although they likely are outside of this list. They may respond to the brand by replying to the message and increasingly they may forward the information on to a friend or share it through another platform. Typically the brand has no exposure to who that person is (although that is readily available to them through metrics) or where else the information might lead unless the new person opts in or replies to the brand themselves.

Are social medium campaigns all that different?

Social campaigns basically start out the same way. There is still a group of users a brand has collected (Facebook fans/”likes,” Twitter followers, etc.) that a message is sent to; the users can still respond and share in similar ways to the e-mail campaign. However, social campaigns have an increased “conversation” component. It’s not that conversation isn’t happening with e-mail, it’s just more likely to happen with social, and the brand has some ability to witness a conversation between other users.

Philosophically, there is no difference. You are managing content that is pushed out to subscribed (opted-in, following, etc.) users and managing responses (once someone responds, you now have a conversation). These content messages can either be scheduled according to a marketing strategy calendar or sent out in response to some immediate need (PR crisis, pending event, sales, etc.). The message’s content still needs to be relevant, timely, and match the expectations of the subscriber in either the e-mail channel or a network channel (and we all know each network is different).

E-mail marketers need to get in this mindset – it’s not either/or; it’s not one killing the other; it’s two different channels that are very much the same.

This is why every facet of the campaign needs to be integrated; marketers need to start looking at holistic messaging strategies. Does your community manager have a schedule of when content will be pushed to Twitter and Facebook so that those two channels are complementing each other? Is e-mail on that same calendar? I’m not just talking about someone, somewhere in your organization who has a master marketing calendar. I mean, is all of your digital messaging working together in real-time? E-mail is just another one of your social channels, and it could be argued that the people who subscribe to that list are your best customers.

E-mail should be working hand in hand with the other digital messaging channels and each channel should complement and leverage the strength of the other. Ask yourself:

  • Are you talking to your best advocates (e-mail list) and pushing them to your Facebook page where they can amplify the conversation in your favor?
  • Are you following up on conversations happening on Twitter and sending your followers the more detailed information, or coupon, or content they want?


If e-mail isn’t working in tandem with all these other channels, then you are having a fragmented conversation with your users. By bringing all of these social channels together, you can develop a robust marketing plan that not only keeps your customers happy; it also helps them become advocates for your brand.

Simms is off today. This column was originally published on March 10, 2011 on ClickZ.

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