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Making Your Email 'Social-able'

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When the weather gets warm, we Midwesterners really enjoy hanging out with our neighbors and having a cold drink.

That June evening in Chicago was no different. But as I poured the drinks and contemplated writing this article, I laughed. I realized that I had just coordinated the impromptu meeting with my neighbors via Facebook. I mean, really? They live across the street!

What's even funnier is that I knew they would get the Facebook message before I could walk over and knock on their door. Enter my "aha!" moment.

We as consumers are integrating social-media channels with how we communicate with friends and family. The challenge of being on the "strategic" side of social marketing means that we sometimes lose sight of how real people use those outlets. In that brief moment, though, I realized how I use social media in my daily life—which was my epiphany that day. (I have them periodically.)

So, take a minute and think about the folks with whom you socialize. You may have a professional network (LinkedIn) and a personal network (Facebook). You may tweet for fun or business, or for both—or maybe you just follow some sports figures on Twitter to keep up to date on the latest trade rumors.


Regardless of how you use social media, you are using it, and those you socialize with are like-minded folks (except the occasional "Hey, I went to grade school with you—remember me?" Facebook request that you feel compelled to accept).

What does all that have to do with making your email "social-able?" Everything.

Why you post information to social sites, what you post, and how frequently you post has everything to do with your motivation behind it. If you, as a marketer, can understand and apply those motivations to your audience and couple that with a content-development strategy to tickle those motivators—you will have a successful social-email program.

Just because you can include a "post to social" link in your email doesn't mean anyone is going to take you up on it. Post-to-social functionality is nothing more than forward-to-a-friend functionality on crack, and though there is opportunity to capitalize on that ability, no one is going to use it if your content is not share-worthy.

There are four basic motivators for social engagement: self-expression, status achievement, altruism, and self-interest. Recognizing what motivates your subscriber base will help you develop email content that is share-worthy. Let's explore each motivator and how you can apply that knowledge to your social-email strategy.

1. Self-expression

Self-expression comes down to displaying or conveying information that expresses your personality or feelings.

For example, you send an email that encourages your recipients to "share a shot" with their friends, allowing them to customize a shot-glass graphic with the logo of their alma mater. Displaying the university logo is their opportunity to express school pride.

2. Status achievement

Let's face it: We all have something that makes us feel like we have status. In the offline world, that often boils down to cars, shoes, or airline miles. However, in the online world, there are other ways to gain status and share it with friends.

One way to way to tap into that motivator is to offer promotions that allow consumers to create status and communicate it with peers.

For example, in support of the next Star Trek sequel (it's only a matter of time), the studio promoting the movie might create a campaign that encourages fans to share the movie trailer with their friends. A fan starts out as an ensign, but as the fan shares the trailer with more and more people, the fan's status gets upgraded to first officer and then to captain, commander, etc.

The studio can then award the overachieving fan with advanced access to the next trailer, which he (yes, "he") can share again with his network, reinforcing his status even further. The ubiquitous Facebook polls are a simple version of that. I scored 95% on the "How well do you know Tom Cruise?" poll, though some would argue that that is the wrong kind of status.

3. Altruism

Altruism is the deliberate pursuit of the interests or welfare of others. Although it is slightly more abstract than the other motivators, altruism is powerful.

One terrific example is an airline that sent an email encouraging its best loyalty-program members to invite their friends to join the program. The airline contemplated offering 50,000 miles for each member conversion, but the audience the airline was targeting already had hundreds of thousands of miles banked.

So what would motivate them? Given the current trend toward going green, the company offered carbon offsets. For every flight the referrer took, the airline would contribute to offsetting the carbon the environment would endure as a result of the flight by planting a tree (or a portion of a tree). How about that for altruistic motivation!

4. Self-interest

This last motivator is a quid pro quo that taps into the "What's in it for me?" mentality.

A telephone company sends an email to its customers offering them an opportunity to get two years' worth of free service by referring friends to the company. Recipients post the email to their social networks with the hope that enough of their friends will convert so the recipients can save on two years' worth of telephone expenses.

* * *

So as you begin building out, or revising, your social-email strategy, take a few moments to understand what motivates your subscriber base and how your brand can capitalize on that motivation to really socialize your email content.

It's time for another drink with my neighbors—let the socializing continue!


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Kara Trivunovic is founder and principal of The Email Advisor (www.theemailadvisor.com). She is also senior director of strategic services at StrongMail Systems (www.strongmail.com). Reach her via info@theemailadvisor.com.

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  • by Annie Ogdon Cooley Wed Nov 4, 2009 via web

    This is an interesting idea to consider. It is true that there is always a motivation in your social interactions especially pertaining to the online world. Being a part of an email marketing company this is definitely a message we need to convey to our clientelle as a best practice sort of thing. It offers a refreshing way to reach customers where they are at.

    Swiftpage: swiftpage.wordpress.com

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