Social Network’s Impact on E-Mail Marketing

What impact do social networks have on e-mail marketing? That’s a question many people have been asking me. Most of them believe e-mail can’t be effective inside social networks made of friends. I think it can.

To find out whether my thoughts were valid, I recently engaged social networking guru and long-time friend Tom Gerace, CEO and founder of Gather, in a very interesting conversation. I thought I would share the highlights of the conversation with you.

Consider this first: e-mail marketing’s success has been primarily driven by its direct approach. A reader receives an e-mail, clicks on a link, and buys a product (or takes another desired action). In some cases, e-mail has helped propel product sales and awareness to new levels when it’s used as a vehicle for viral messaging. In social networks, e-mail can become viral much quicker because the messages are capable of being sent to a group of trusted friends versus a group of e-mail addresses.

When I asked Gerace if he agreed with this point, he said: “The social organization of the Internet has changed how people meet and connect. It has begun to alter how we learn, socialize, shop, and communicate. It will impact how businesses build relationships with their customers.”

His reasoning for why social networks can expand e-mail’s impact is this: The Internet used to be organized to share information through methods such as topical relevance (e.g., indexes and directories), even custom categories, like sports or news. When we would read something topical, we’d e-mail it to a friend. Typically one friend, sometimes three or four. Similarly when we received an e-mail about something we liked, we’d click on it, explore it, and buy it. Then we would e-mail a few people about it.

Today, though, social networks have changed the organization of Web content and allowed people to “map our experiences much more closely to how we actually live our lives; organize it socially.” He continued, “Much of our world offline is already driven socially. We learn language at birth by observing those close to us. We meet business colleagues, friends, and significant others through those we already know. We watch fashion trends among our friends. We discover restaurants, films, books, and travel spots by word of mouth. And we do these things because our social circles create both trust and a high degree of personal relevance in our experience.”

So what does this have to do with an impact on e-mail response rates?

One e-mail can now be posted or shared on a social network. Immediately, its content is forwarded to 100-plus liked-minded people. The viral impact is tremendous. The brand impact is huge, and the purchase rates can go through the roof.

No longer do we marketers need to wait for an e-mail to crawl around the Internet. We can watch it be posted to Facebook, YouTube, or Gather and see the impact a message shared by a credible source with a trusted community has.

In the end, both Gerace and I felt secure knowing that social networking was helping grow the e-mail industry’s impact by offering support and accelerating distribution.

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