I had the pleasure of participating on a panel on the Future of Social Email at the Social Email Marketing conference in San Francisco last week. Mark Schmulen of @ConstantContact moderated the discussion. With me on the panel were Chase McMichael (@chasemcmichael) of InfiniGraph and Poppy Thorpe of Vertical Response (@VR4SmallBiz).
Topics & Themes We Set Out to Address:
We were asked to address the areas where email meets social media, and email marketing is starting to intersect with social marketing. We had a pre-panel prep call that generated a long list of topics and questions that we set out to address. Here are the questions, courtesy Mark (thanks Mark!):
1) What are the Top 2 or 3 themes that we each see for the Future of Social Email?
2) The question Is Email Dead is tired, but it is clear that people are using different channels and technologies to communicate online. How will this change over time and what implications does it have for marketers?
3) Should we treat customers differently based on their social networking Klout?
4) Does it make sense to segment your email list based on which social networks they belong to? If so, what are the defining characteristics of a Facebook user vs a Twitter user vs a LinkedIn user?
5) SM is all about the two-way dialog and even many-to-many. How can we make email a more interactive experience?
6) Assuming we could remove all technical limitations of email (ie: static HTML), how would you change email to make it a more engaging marketing channel?
7) Value of a Subscriber vs a Follow. Just because I like you on Facebook doesn’t mean I want you to market to me, but when I give you my email address I am giving you explicit permission to do so. How does the Like button or Follow button need to change to match intent with expectation?
8 ) Do we hold social media marketing to a lower standard than email marketing. A 20% open rate is considered to be a good response rate, what is a good measurement for social media marketing success?
9) How are the conversations we have through social media channels affecting the way we communicate through email marketing?
10) Are we reaching a saturation point with social media marketing. Email has been infested with spammers, is that happening with social media and how do we fight it.
11) Mobile devices are changing the way we consume both email and social media. There is a lot of buzz around Geo-Location. How will this change the way we market through these channels in the future?
We then threw in a few more questions into the mix, that we thought were interesting:
12) How quickly are local businesses / SMB business adopting social email marketing practices? What are their key challenges, and what can the industry do more to address their specific needs?
13) How is social email marketing different between B2B and B2C businesses? Are there specific types of businesses that will benefit more from social email marketing?
It was a spirited discussion, that touched upon many topics. Here are the Top 3 Themes that I tried to point out, as to what I see over the next few years. I would love to continue the discussion here with anyone who has something to add!
Theme #1: The Reinvention of the Email Newsletter or Email Newsletter 2.0
I suggested that it was time for businesses, especially those who have done what they can to optimize the open rates of their email newsletters, to now shift focus to adding interactivity and drive engagement from inside their emails to customers and prospects.
It’s now possible to add interactive content units that are visually compelling, engage the user, and go on to present targeted offers that reflect the user’s real-time interest and intent expressed via interactions. The interaction flow can further compel the user to take specific social actions (share with their social or professional network on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Email).
Email Marketers can now begin to think of each email newsletter as more of an assembly of parts, with interactive content units “dropped into” their existing HTML email templates, that they continue to manage via their current email delivery platform provider (such as @ConstantContact or @VerticalResponse).
Examples of interactive content units? How about in-email polls that engage a user, and each poll response results in a targeted offer + marketing message + call-to-action that’s specific to the user response? A great way to cross-sell / up-sell a customer on other products and services that would be of interest to the user.
How about an in-email quiz that enables a customer or user to self-profile, provide some key insights to the business, and as a result, again enable the business to present a much more compelling, targeted offer that results in a customer up-sell / cross-sell, or a prospect turning into a lead.
And then there are in-email promotions that offer incentives to the user for taking specific social sharing actions, such as a discount or promo code, Facebook credits, group discount if the user can bring in additional buyers, and more.
Technology will continue to evolve, where the newsletters of tomorrow will come with in-email video, combined with these kinds of interactive units to elicit instant user feedback, and move the user further along in the sales conversion funnel.
Theme #2: Engagement, Social Interactions in Transactional Emails and Business Emails
We know that today, other than the most sophisticated of e-commerce sites (say an Amazon.com or Drugstore.com) very few online businesses effectively leverage their “customer touch” when they send a transactional email to a customer. Examples of transactional emails?
- Thank you email for creating an account on a publisher or merchant site.
- Password reset email.
- Order confirmation email.
- Shipping notification email.
All of these transactional emails represent a significant opportunity to engage the customer, interact with the customer from inside the email, and seek to up sell / cross sell the customer.
Similarly emails between individual employees of a Company or business and the Company’s customers, prospects and partners are another interesting marketing channel for the business that are ripe for adding engagement and social interactions of various forms. What needs to be addressed is finding specific interaction models that will be acceptable to business users, and not require large changes in business user and consumer behavior.
Theme #3: Twitter Does Not Cut It (Yet) For Busy Business Users, Email Is The Workhorse
There was a spirited discussion of the impact of Twitter on business users. What has been Twitter’s impact on SMBs versus mid-to-large enterprises? Is Twitter changing the way business users spend their time? How much “mind share” does Twitter really get from a busy corporate executive during her / his work day? Do they use it much, or are they primarily tethered to their phone and email inbox?
How is Twitter impacting the process of information discovery, information gathering, decision making within mid-to-large companies? Is Twitter primarily a darling of the independent consultant, small business owner, savvy local businesses, PR agencies, media and celebrities? Yes, Twitter has had a few successes with becoming a new channel for customer service for businesses, but will it replace email and phone? Or merely supplement them for the more technically savvy subset of a business’s customer base?
I suggested that Twitter remains extremely challenging for the busy corporate executive at just about every level of a mid-to-large enterprise. They use the email inbox in their Microsoft Outlook, Blackberry, iPhone, Android, or another smart phone to get almost all of their day-to-day work done today. Twitter has too much noise, with its “open follow” approach. It has a low “signal to noise” ratio today. It does not help the executive with all the internal, day-to-day blocking and tackling she / he needs to do. Twitter needs to evolve in significant ways to find a place in the corporate executives activity stream during business hours!
Until that happens, corporate emails and phone remain the primary channels to reach that busy executive!
OK, comments? Do you agree with my Top 3 Themes (or really Opportunities) at the intersection of Emails and Social Media? Have a different, more compelling one to suggest? Let’s get the conversation started…