Integrating social media into email is relatively new, but the tactic has been widely adopted as a way to increase email's reach, keep customers engaged, and acquire new subscribers. But there's more you can do beyond simply adding links to your social media profiles or sending an email asking your subscribers to follow you on Twitter. Here are some other ways you can take a note from what works on social media sites to infuse your emails with a social spirit.
Sharing is caring
The original way to "share with your network" was the forward-to-a-friend (FtoF) feature, and it still works. Studies show consumers use forward to a friend when they want to share an email, in addition to posting to social sites. ShareThis released some data recently that demonstrate people share content via email 38 percent of the time, which is the same percentage that people share content via Facebook. So be sure to include an FtoF link in your email template, and think about developing a custom application that lets the sender add a comment. It's possible to get some interesting insights by looking at which emails were forwarded and the comments people made to their friends about the products featured.
Another smart tactic is to include a quick message in your email template similar to Crate and Barrel's, which says "Did someone forward you this message? Skip the grapevine. Opt in to receive Crate and Barrel email. Click here to hear it first." That way, if the original recipient forwarded the email using a Hotmail or Gmail forward button, rather than the FtoF function in your email, the recipient has a way to connect with you directly, which is one of the benefits of social media. And you might gain subscribers, which is a priority for most email marketers.
The great thing about social media is that everyone can participate. People can share their opinions, ask questions, and offer advice. Everyone likes to feel like an expert. You can incorporate this into your emails by using customer-generated product reviews, customer questions, or even featuring the products that are most highly rated by customers.
Marketers have seen success with messages promoting five-star rated products or top sellers. My favorites not only showcase the products and their ratings, but also feature actual reviews by customers. It adds authenticity, which is a major component of social media. Banana Republic recently used this tactic for its menswear by featuring reviews of all the requirements for a well-dressed businessman, including cologne.
Another option for encouraging audience participation is including a poll or survey that asks for an opinion on things like what cover they like better for your next catalog, or what they think the biggest trend will be for the upcoming season. Fashion site Newport News took this approach by asking what the top trend of 2010 would be, ranging from "wild romance" to "carefree glam."
Some companies put a face on their social media marketing by revealing the real person behind the tweets or blog. It forges a more personal connection with the brand and makes fans feel like they're getting insider information. The same tactic can work in email. It works particularly well if your company's founder or CEO is well known or has a distinctive style. Ann Taylor sends emails featuring picks from Lisa, its lead designer. Even if you don't have a well-known personality behind your company, you can feature employees, like Urban Outfitters has done recently. The company shined a spotlight on an employee of the month by doing a feature on her and pulling together a page showing her product picks.
Another way to be real is to give backstage access to your email subscribers. Show them scenes from a recent catalog shoot or model casting. Or perhaps a travelogue from your head buyer detailing the search for the perfect items for fall. Redken recently sent an email showcasing hair trends as seen on the runway, along with step-by-step instructions and videos for recreating the looks from shows by Marc Jacobs and other top designers.
More than the ABCs
Social media is about learning, discovering, and sharing. It's not about overtly selling, so don't "always be closing." Try weaving in some editorial content, like seasonal trends, or how-to tutorials, similar to the Redken example above. I call this goodwill messaging. In this way, your emails fit into your customers' lifestyles, and they will look forward to hearing what you have to say -- rather than ignoring your email because they aren't buying anything right now.
One company that gets it right is VivaTerra, a company focused on green, sustainable, global products. Each month the company sends an eco-newsletter with a topic based on a theme, like green weddings. Ninety percent of the content is editorial, with a small section set aside for product promotion.
Charity and humanitarian causes spread like wildfire on social media sites because it's easy for someone to join a group, change an avatar, or ask friends for help. Email can work the same way. It's a great way to get the word out to subscribers with information about a cause near and dear to your company, or ways they can help you help victims of a natural disaster, as we saw with the earthquake in Haiti. Kiehl's sent an email to its subscribers letting them know how they could help by donating to Population Services International, an organization that has been working in Haiti for more than 20 years. In addition, the message encouraged consumers to share the message, since Kiehl's would donate $1 for every tweet or Facebook share.
By invitation only
It may seem counterintuitive to limit your content to a specific audience, but doing so creates ambassadors who will share your content for you. People like to feel special, and they like to tell their friends about things that are cool. This model has been adopted with huge success by some cutting-edge online "private sale" boutique retailers. Invitations are required to create an account, and each day, an email goes out to members promoting that day's sale. Members can invite friends via email, thereby earning a referral bonus for each friend who makes a purchase. This tactic can also work as a "friends and family" event. Your subscribers get access to a special promotion, and they get to share the wealth with their friends. This can be a win-win situation: Customers feel good about sharing a deal, and the friends who received the deal might like it so much they sign up for your email marketing.
Finally, have fun!
One of the drivers of time spent with social media is games, especially among women. Email marketers can see engagement go through the roof when they incorporate games or interactive applications into their emails. These types of emails tend to go viral, thereby expanding your audience and hopefully encouraging new people to sign up for your emails. One superstar example in this category is OfficeMax's Elf Yourself. Participants can customize an elf and then email it to friends, as well as post it to Facebook.
You can also have fun by incorporating holidays into your email marketing. In March, Bare Escentuals sent out a Saint Patrick's Day email that included a limerick contest and tips on wearing green based on your skin tone. In December, Avis sent holiday greetings to its Avis First program members that included a puzzle game and a photo-sharing app for the Blackberry. If it fits within your brand's personality, unusual holidays like National High Five Day or Talk Like a Pirate Day make great fodder for fun campaigns.
I hope these campaigns have inspired you to be creative when integrating your email and social media marketing. As you can see, there's still a lot of opportunity to be creative and give your subscribers a reason to look forward to reading your emails.
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