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Brands with the best social emails

Brands with the best social emails Dylan Boyd

Let's talk about how brands are approaching social integration in email marketing. I will be the first to admit that I (might) have an email and social media addiction. In fact, while we are on the topic, I might as well admit my addiction to digital media as whole. Once I acknowledged my condition, I did the natural thing: I Googled "addiction." According to the 12-steppers:

Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over our addiction -- that our lives had become unmanageable.

And after reading Step 1, I might argue that my life has become more manageable thanks to my addiction. In fact, my friendships, especially those that are geographically distant, seem to have been strengthened through email and social media. Alas, I have an addiction and might not be seeing the whole picture clearly.

Yet, as I walk through hotels, airports, office parks, schools, soccer fields, high school football games, and any other venue where people gather it seems that we are all sharing this addiction. We are looking for connectivity with brands, people, friends, heroes, and news sources 24 hours a day. A recent study put average time spent on social media at 4.6 hours a day and email at 4.4 hours a day, with the percentage of people doping it daily at 46 percent and 72 percent respectively. No other activities came close to social media and email -- so if you can effectively combine and harness these two forces, your marketing programs should soar.

On that same note, 30 percent of brands used social sharing in their holiday campaigns last year. This year, look for social integration in email campaigns to not only skyrocket, but also to truly impact sales.

So, when it comes to brands using social media in their email marketing, which ones are doing it right? And which ones are still figuring it out? Let's take a look at programs using the social-email combination in interesting ways -- both good and bad.

These first few examples are well-executed campaigns coming from our own team, after which I'll discuss some outside examples of brands that are making waves at the intersection of email and social media.

Wacom Pen Scrappers
If you have read my past articles, seen me speak, or worked with me on campaigns, you know how important I consider welcome emails. So why not integrate social media into these important messages? If social media is a prime part of your overall digital marketing, you need to make sure it is out in front of your audience. And adding -- not forcing -- social media introductions in a welcome campaign works well. Of course, choose your focus wisely. If you have other campaign goals, do not make social media front and center -- but do introduce it.

In looking at the Pen Scrappers community site we built for Wacom (now three versions in), we made sure social media was incorporated into the email template in a way that stood out but did not steal the attention from the goals of getting started and exploring content. In this way, social media becomes an expected element in future emails.

Banfield wanted to use email to introduce its subscribers to what the company was doing in three social media channels. Instead of just saying follow us/friend us, the company chose to add some value by providing a glimpse of what it is doing in each channel -- yet still leaving a little bit behind the curtain to engage the click.

By providing context and showing subscribers what they might be able to add to the social media conversations, Banfield helped build value and a story around its brand. People love their pets. Providing content that nurtures these relationships helps to solidify the brand's connection with subscribers.

After building a new branded entertainment game show and interactive game for Starlicious this year, we waited to engage with social channels until we had published a majority of the shows. We needed the content to support the marketing effort. When introducing a new brand or property, it is important to first build the relationship before asking your audience to take steps that might not make sense. If you simply tell people to jump in and engage in social channels without proving the value of your content, you create a reason for churn. The goal is not to battle for new points of engagement, but rather prolonged engagement that supports the building and continuing of relationships.

We also did something a little different by introducing one of Starlicious' partners, Gain, as the channel for the Facebook relationship, as the brand already had a commitment to the channel and content to support it. Why bite off more than you can chew? Sometimes it is better to focus on building and supporting an existing network than to try to start your own. If you're fortunate enough to have a partner that ties into your brand, promoting and supporting that partner can benefit all parties.

OK Magazine
Publishers are starting to get it as well. Social is about sharing, and a majority of people who are sharing content are not simply sharing deals and sales. We worked with OK Magazine and other publishers to incorporate social tools into their weekly and daily emails. We have experimented with many formats of sharing and found that people really love to share content from emails in this way. We live in an information society where people gain some social credibility by telling people first and being in the know. What amazes me is how often we see people simply scan and share content from an email -- at times more so than from the web page on which the full story resides.

Yet with some layouts, we like to pull the sharing elements into the stories that are the most likely to be shared. Some publications do better with this, as they have an ad model that needs to be supported from the website and not just from the email. If you are in publishing, you need to find the right balance between social sharing in emails and meeting your business goals.

Up next, I'd like to highlight some brands that I have developed mild crushes on lately due to how they are using social media as a driver and connector for their marketing goals and customer engagement.

My top crush is a close tie between Levi's and Barneys. Over the past six months, the 100-year-old Levi's has done an impressive about-face when it comes to using social to lift its email programs. The company has done a great job in testing the location and content of its social-sharing elements as well as how those elements function within the overall context of the emails.

A recent example in which the company used email to launch its own community site called "Shape" demonstrates the importance Levi's places on email as an immediate impact channel. Notably, the company continues find a good mix with its email campaigns. Certain campaigns look to move the sales needle, while others are heavily focused on social-following incentives.

Barneys has been one to watch this year. One stand-out campaign used email not to sell things (but do note that there is still a navigational shopping header in the email), but rather to showcase an interview of the people behind Barneys' social media work. This is a great idea for breaking up the monotony of the buy buy buy, sale sale sale, now now now retail approach. Being that it was a long holiday weekend, it gave people a chance to relax, enjoy, and become closer to the brand through email and social.

Stepping away from the fan-follow-friend-stalk technique employed by many marketers out there, Nike took a great approach when it used one of its Nike+ emails to get people to connect social accounts in order to inspire and reach more people about running. I see posts across Facebook and Twitter all day long, and it is quite motivating to see all the people you know getting out from behind their screens. In fact, just seeing these posts reminds me to pack my shoes when I travel so I can get out of those conference rooms and hotels for a run.

Nike keeps it simple yet makes a big impact. Social is not about the brand; it's about the users. Same with email, right? It is about the timely, relevant communications that users want, and that strategy works in both places.

Bra Smyth
Here's another company that is using its emails not only for sales, but also for social awareness initiatives. Bra Smyth leveraged its audience, social media, email, and the month of October (i.e., National Breast Cancer Awareness Month) to pull off a winning campaign. Finding the best time of year to pool all its resources to support the community that its products "support" is a win-win for Bra Smyth and its community. The company might not stop here; I wouldn't be surprised if this evolves into a year-round campaign that ties breast cancer awareness into everything the company does.

Saks and Express
When discussing social, it is important to look at how some brands are experimenting with geolocation apps, which are essentially extensions of their regular Facebook and Twitter presences. The two examples shown below, Saks and Express, are using Foursquare to drive retail store check-ins and get people to use social to shop offline.

A few major retailers (like Best Buy and Macy's) are also testing a new location-based competitor called Shopkick, which could make a dent in the marketplace. My money is starting to move to Facebook Places; the user base is already there, and it should have an easier acceptance road. Although I haven't seen anyone use it yet, I am expecting it will pop into emails more and more as brands that work heavily with Facebook learn to use location.

Last but not least, Metropark provides a great example of how you can tie social networks into a simple email campaign to drive a connection through fiscal value. I know we are in a discount-hungry world, and we might be setting some unreasonable expectations among consumers that we are going to need to live with. Simply said, deals work.

Even though I have just shown you plenty of examples of email driving social media success, it goes both ways. Social media can drive your email subscriber programs as well.

Look at Ace Hotel, Nordstrom, or even Fast Company. They are Twitter to bring people into the email subscription process. Try it; it works. But if you do, make sure to use some trackable links and put them out there consistently. Tie your efforts back to a new program or an email that is about to go out, or offer incentives for only list subscribers. In short, use the same techniques you use to get people connect with you on social networks, but flip it around.

In addition, remember to place all your email and social calls to action together. See how Urban Outfitters brings its email subscription form in tight with the Facebook connection? If people get used to seeing these elements together, it will feel more natural when they see that combination in their inboxes.

Also, prominently feature social connections on thank-you pages and other messages sent following an email sign-up. You have someone who is engaged with you; by giving them a way to connect with you further, you not only have a possibility to increase your messaging and engagement abilities, but you also have a way to measure which of your subscribers are interested in connecting with you in another way -- even if they did not fan, friend, follow, or like you right on the spot. Set up a nice follow-up campaign as you build this new relationship.

So how are you using email to support your social programs? There are many ways to do it, and not all of them are always right. Hopefully some of these examples spark ideas for how this integration can work for you and your email subscribers in a positive way.

I have written a lot on this topic over the past few months, and you can find some more of my thoughts here. I have also been setting up an archive of social headers, footers, and other elements from brands' email programs. Find the archive here at Evernote.

Dylan Boyd is VP of sales and strategy at eROI.

On Twitter? Follow Boyd at @dtboyd. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

I lead Growth at Urban Airship, a mobile services platform provider that develops tools for marketers using the mobile channel to engage and retain customers on mobile apps. I lead business development efforts, strategic partnerships and agency...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Georgia Christian

2011, January 18

Great article and great designs chosen for your examples. Thanks also for the link to the study, very interesting stats indeed.

Commenter: Dylan Boyd

2010, November 04


The study was the recent TNS study - you can find some of the data publicly available here


Commenter: Kathryn Klein

2010, November 03

A recent study put average time spent on social media at 4.6 hours a day and email at 4.4 hours a day, with the percentage of people doping it daily at 46 percent and 72 percent respectively.

Could you please cite the study? Where did this information come from?


Commenter: Jeff Cannon

2010, November 03

Great perspective on the realities of human nature and social media. It's time for us marketers to think on how to leverage this in a smart and humanistic way - i.e., by giving the people the kind of entertainment and information that will not only feed their craving, but help them find what they want in the long run.

Would that be called responsible social marketing?

i.e., Think before you act.

Think Cannon