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The real definition of "social" email

Ben Ardito
The real definition of "social" email Ben Ardito

Imagine if you could slap a pair of booster rockets on your social media strategy. Sure, it may sound like the stuff of science fiction and road runner cartoons, but figuratively speaking, that's the power of social email. What is "social" email, you ask? There are two fundamental characteristics that enable email to have a significant impact on your social media strategy. First, the content of the email must be easily shared. And second, the content of the email has to be deemed share-worthy by recipients. Making email content easy to share is pretty simple today with tools like forward-to-a-friend and ShareThis. The real challenge lies in making sure the email content is something your customers will want to share.

The most important thing to remember when developing a social email (or any email or social media campaign, for that matter) is this: Content is still king. If you want customers to share your email, you must include persuasive, relevant content and leverage user-generated content at every opportunity. The most effective social email campaigns will use other social channels to draw audiences in and direct them to complementary content, such as online customer reviews, product ratings, and multimedia demonstrations. After all, any promotion or offer is substantially more persuasive when it is backed by the customers' voice. For example: "Receive 10% off these top 5 user-rated products."

At the same time, a social email should always have a distinct call-to-action. "Become a fan on Facebook" does not make an email campaign social. Instead, your call to action should take a more personal tone: "Do you love ACME products? Share this great offer with your friends and family!" Take the extra step with your best customers and nudge them to serve as advocates for your brand. Remember, if one customer can influence 10 more people, your brand benefits 10-fold.

Listen, and then leverage social content
Not surprisingly, your best customers are the key to developing social email. Many of them are ready and willing to advocate on your brand's behalf by participating in satisfaction surveys, writing product reviews, blogging about their experience, and more. Your job is to listen. Encourage your customers to talk about your products and share their opinions with others, and then be prepared to use the content that is generated to create your social email campaigns. For example, user-generated content can be featured in future email campaigns with relevant subject lines -- something like "See what customers are saying about this product" -- to keep customers engaged with your brand and one another.

However, social email can do more than just leverage user-generated content. It can also help accelerate the consumption of social content. Only a small percentage of your brand's email list may consist of social media users; however, a much larger percentage consists of customers who know your brand and enjoy your products. Email brings videos, top customer reviews, blog posts, and other social content right to your audiences' inboxes, where it has the ability to directly influence purchasing decisions. We all recognize that user-generated content is powerful, but the influence of a friend's or another buyer's opinion on purchase decisions can be downright staggering. According to Forrester Research, 64 percent of online buyers find customer reviews important when making a purchase, and 47 percent of online users value information provided by other consumers over information provided by the marketer.

The key to successfully developing social email is to not only embrace, but also facilitate the trend of customers creating content and connecting with one another in social networks. Essentially, marketers can utilize email as a means to put the brand's best customers to work for them as advocates in social networks. Furthermore, by combining the strengths of these two channels -- social networks as a brand-building force and email marketing as a powerful tool for orchestrating the customer lifecycle -- marketers can achieve a significant boost to their customer acquisition and retention efforts.

Ben Ardito is vice president of professional services at e-Dialog.

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