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The titanic growth of social-media marketing has inevitably brought with it dire predictions for the future of more-established marketing channels. Some commentators keen to predict the next silver bullet for marketers have announced the end of email, and even the death of blogging. Each successive social-media tool or channel is jumped on as the new best way to reach and influence your audience.

The truth, of course, is far different. Clearly, social media is no fad, but nor has it replaced email or any other more-traditional marketing channels such as direct mail.

Experienced marketers understand that success in targeting and developing profitable relationships with various audiences comes from developing a 360-degree approach with the consumer at the center. Likewise, understanding which marketing channel to use for which purpose is key to successful marketing.

In the rush to adopt anything "social," a lot of people are grabbing the closest tool at hand rather than stopping to think about the right tool for the job. As online marketing consultant Paul Gillin said in a recent webinar on Secrets of Social Media Marketing, "Start with the goal, not the tool."

Distinct Channels, Each With a Role

There are many similarities between social-media marketing and email; but they are two distinct marketing channels, and they should be used separately to enhance or magnify, not just promote, each other.

Again, according to Gillin, "Social media is for awareness; email is for retention."

In short, you need to consider and use the right combination of tools—in this case, email and one or more of a range of social-media tools available. Marketers need to understand that social-media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, FriendFeed, Flickr, and YouTube—to name but a few—are, essentially, personal channels. In other words, they are not where your audience expects or wants to be sold to or receive offers.

Still, even as they know that many of their customers (and competitors) are using these tools and participating in social conversations online, many companies are struggling to understand how to become involved and integrate social-media marketing with other marketing efforts.

If you're an email marketer, you already have a targeted audience—and, hence, a place to start.

Observe where your audience is online, which social networks your audience belongs to, and what is being discussed. Follow your competitors, customers, and industry leaders on Twitter and network with them on LinkedIn. Subscribe and listen to their podcasts, and follow their blogs.

Doing so will help you become familiar with the different social-media tools that are available and how they're being used to conduct business. Listening in also gives you exceptional insight into your audience, and you'll learn details that you can use to target your audience with more relevant information and offers.

Remember, however, that just because you're gathering this information in social channels they aren't the best or most appropriate channels to communicate with your target audience. Your choice of marketing tools should depend on your goals.

Sandy Carter, vice-president of SOA and WebSphere Marketing, Strategy, and Channels for IBM Corporation, gives a great example of how you can listen and react to social conversations in a recent podcast on social-media marketing.

Carter's hairdresser set up a Facebook page and linked into his community. He noticed that a lot of women were discussing a particular hair treatment. He offered the treatment in his shop but was performing only three per month until he posted a 10%-off coupon on his Facebook page. Within weeks, he had sold nearly 70 treatments.

This is a perfect example of how you can use social-media channels in a simple, productive way. The hairdresser could have taken the campaign one step further and emailed it to his entire clientele to get an even greater response.

Social networks are perfect for building brand awareness, sharing information, and starting conversations with your audience. They should not be used or viewed as a primary forum in which to sell your products, though.

You do not want to turn off your audience members by forcing a sales message on them.

Leave the hard-sell to your email campaigns. Email marketing is still the most direct way to reach your audience with targeted offers, and recent research shows that two out of three people use email to help them decide whether to make a purchase. People read and buy from email campaigns. They expect emails to contain product information that is relevant to them and an offer that is compelling enough to entice them to buy.

What most emails lack, however, is the viral, interactive component that marketers need to reach new audiences. Simply posting a link to your email newsletter from your Twitter account or asking your audience to pass it along to friends through Facebook won't turn it into a viral campaign. Knowing the strengths and limits of each channel will help you determine the best uses for both tools so that you use them to enhance your campaign results rather then simply using email and social-media marketing to refer to each other.

Combining Email and Social-Media Marketing to Enhance Results

When used together, social-media marketing and email marketing will get you closer to your customers than ever before. Following are some tips for using both channels together:

  • Add a SWYN link to your emails. Most emails contain a Forward to a Friend (FTAF) link, and though the numbers of forwarded emails are generally low the emails that are forwarded have high conversion rates. Give your emails an update with a share with your network (SWYN) link to encourage your audience to share your messages in a more viral environment.
  • Build your lists. Once you engage people in conversation, ask them whether they want to opt in to your email list. People love the personalized communication through social networks; however, most business professionals are too busy to strictly communicate that way. Email provides them the information they want, and they can read it at their convenience.
  • Use the data that social networks provide. The information you'll learn from your audience in the social networks should be used to target them with relevant email messages. Don't let the two channels operate in a vacuum; use the data to your benefit.

    For example, while conducting a webinar that had been promoted using Facebook and Twitter, among other channels, we received a tweet from a follower commenting on the subject matter in the webinar. We replied directly to that person to see whether we could answer any immediate questions and to begin establishing a closer relationship with her. We now know what subject matter is important to her and have the opportunity to start sending her emails on this topic.

 

It's OK to use the same content across different channels as long as you amend the message and voice to fit the audience. For example, if you're promoting an event, using social-media and email channels gives you a one-two punch that will greatly increase attendance while keeping the cost to promote the event low.

You can develop and distribute a social-media release promoting the event using affordable or even free services, such as PRWeb or PitchEngine, that allow multiple links back to your website. Readers can then choose to sign up for the event, as well as build links, create tags, and post the content to other social-media channels such as Facebook and LinkedIn.

You can also promote the event on Twitter with a link to the full release online and support that with a more detailed email to your list of past attendees and friends.

The voice you use to communicate in these various channels should be part of your strategy.

Posts on Facebook and Twitter should be casual and authentic, but be aware that SMS, or Short Message Service, text language won't translate well and could come across as lazy or careless when you're speaking to a professional audience via a business email.

Tools such as TweetDeck also let you post a message to different channels from one location. You can also share email campaigns on social networks using these links (where http://www.mysite.com/email.htm needs to be switched out with the landing page URL of your email):

  • Facebook—http://www.facebook.com/share.php?u=http://www.mysite.com/email.htm
  • Twitter—http://twitter.com/home?status=http://www.mysite.com/email.htm
  • LinkedIn—http://www.linkedin.com/shareArticle?mini=true&url=http://www.mysite.com/email.htm
  • MySpace—http://www.myspace.com/Modules/PostTo/Pages/?u=http://www.mysite.com/email.htm

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ross Kramer is CEO of Listrak (www.listrak.com), an email-service provider that educates email and direct marketers on best-practices. Reach him at rkramer@listrak.com.