Getting Social in E-Mail Marketing

Everyone’s thinking about social media, including e-mail service providers.

That was obvious after walking the floor of ExactTarget’s well attended and brilliantly produced user conference last week. ExactTarget and other companies recognize this and are introducing social media tools into their e-mail offerings.

During one panel discussion, the e-mail operations manager at explained how the company generated an additional 25,000 impressions a week when people forwarded offers to friends on Facebook.

Keeping that in mind, let’s review the rise of social media in e-mail and examine some data I presented at the user conference. It’s interesting to see how the connections and links in a brand’s e-mail marketing messages that promote their social media sites reflect the social media landscape.

E-mail Marketing: Getting a Read on Social Networks

Back in 2004, my company monitored the first link in an e-mail newsletter social media site. At that time, a CNET newsletter contained a link to a MySpace page promoting the band, Dresden Dolls. By 2006, MySpace was truly the dominant force. The number of campaigns with MySpace links steadily grew each quarter, until there were approximately 200 campaigns with links to MySpace during the last three months of 2006. In contrast, only one campaign linked to Facebook and 22 to LinkedIn. Not a tweet out of Twitter at this point.

In 2007, things changed. MySpace was still the dominant force, but Facebook made dramatic strides in overcoming the gap. Twitter first appeared in e-mail campaigns in 2007 and LinkedIn was also present. During the final three months of 2007, the number of e-mail campaigns with MySpace links rose to over 500; Facebook totaled about 360 campaigns; Twitter, 84; and LinkedIn, 60.

Activity in the social media space intensified. Facebook surpassed MySpace in early 2008. During all of 2008, Facebook became the property to beat as far as marketers were concerned. For the entire year, there were over 12,000 e-mail campaigns that ran Facebook links within an e-mail. MySpace was still number two with over 4,800 campaigns. Twitter was a distant third with just over 2,500 campaigns and 1,600 campaigns linked to LinkedIn.

Things changed in 2009. Twitter outpaced Facebook in the second quarter. During the first nine months of this year, there have been over 73,000 e-mail campaigns with Twitter links and 69,000 campaigns with links to Facebook. MySpace has over 12,000 for the nine months that ended Sept. 30, 2009 — about the same as Facebook’s total for 2008. LinkedIn had an impressive 8,000 campaigns.

So, what’s the point? As much as Twitter has grabbed everyone’s attention today, there is leap frogging happening. Who is to say that another technology that isn’t even on our radar yet, won’t be the dominate force in two years time? Just as Twitter eclipsed Facebook this year and Facebook eclipsed MySpace the year before.

While traveling on a plane, I was chatting with a woman from the non-profit world. Her question was: “How do I plan out two years, which is what I need to do in the non-profit space, so that I’m placing the correct bets on the technology winner two years from now?”

The answer is: by looking backwards, at e-mail. It’s the channel that has been working for over 15 years and will continue to be successful over the next 15 years.

E-Mail: More Than a Tweet

One of the most misguided articles in recent memory was the piece in “The Wall Street Journal,” proclaiming the end of e-mail. People forget that e-mail is regulated, mature, and has a strong infrastructure of technologies and innovative companies. E-mail is more effective and costs less than other channels. Social media is still the Wild West. Spam and fraud will become more of a problem; social media eventually will be subject to regulation that marketers will have to follow. We’re seeing how the Federal Trade Commission has released guidelines on product endorsements — and the potential repercussions for bloggers and word-of-mouth marketers. Consider this: in one way, a tweet is nothing more than a subject line leading to a landing page offer, just like an e-mail.

Now, if people become as interested in forwarding e-mail subject lines as they are in tweets, that could be a marketers dream come true.

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