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The social takeover: Is email dead?

Abi Clowes
The social takeover: Is email dead? Abi Clowes
The past few years have witnessed a meteoric rise in social media. Once a channel dismissed as a fad, the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin have stamped their name on a marketer's must-have list. As is the way when a new marketing channel rises, the question is asked 'is it taking over email?'

An interesting question, but one that shows how channel-focused us marketers have become. Looking back to the classroom, we were always taught about integrated marketing and how to make channels work together to find the best path for our message. These days it seems marketers focus more on a single channel at a time, meaning that when a new and exciting channel such as social media comes along, the older ones are forgotten.

Not so -- and there are many reasons as to why not:

Social is mostly to socialise!

Social media and email marketing have very different communication purposes. Social media is used mostly to socialise! It's where people go to keep up-to-date with their friends and family, the latest events and to show what everyone is interested in. Yes, there are now paid for adverts that show up in various feeds and companies have profiles to engage with their customers. But it's not the only place customers would to receive this information.

Consumers want a specific social experience

Consumers wouldn't allow their social experiences to be overrun with brand and business messaging. A little advertising sprinkled here and there is fine, but would they want every message to be received socially? Even where brands are successfully engaging with consumers via social, there needs to be a wider dialogue that goes beyond basic offers or ad based broadcasts about themselves. Social should always be open to a two-way conversation – otherwise consumers will quickly switch-off.

Consumers don't currently opt-in to receive messaging from brands via social media. You could argue that by following companies, consumers hit an automatic opt-in button. But with email marketing, the consumer opts-in to specific types of marketing that don't overlap with interactions between friends or family. Plus, if consumers don't want to read an email, it will simply sit in their inbox or get deleted.

We're a multi-faceted lot

Saying that one channel is taking over another is a bit like saying that we're only capable of consuming messaging once (and through) one medium. Let's give ourselves some credit. We've been pretty good at this multi-tasking malarky: we watch TV and browse the internet at the same time, so why not read an email and 'like' a company on Facebook?

As technology advances our communication styles are growing with them. The main impact of social is the ability to share information quickly and with an audience who in turn, are highly connected to us. New mobile devices are pushing us to do more on the move, but that presents the same challenges to social as it does to email. Even though the experience needs to be optimised for the handset, both email and social work well here.

Email marketing investment is on the up

According to the Econsultancy Marketing Budgets Report 2012, email marketing investment is on the up. For the amount of time that email marketing has been around compared to social media, you would expect social media marketing to need more investment to allow it to work for marketers. They don't need that same investment for email -- its already a part of most marketers' mixes -- so to see investment still rising, shows email isn't going anywhere.

It's a targeting thing

An email list is lovingly crafted to make sure the right people get the right messages that are relevant to them. Marketers painstakingly collect data about a target audience: what they like and don't like and when they last interacted following an email.

We know exactly how to slice and dice our databases to make sure only the relevant message goes to those who want it. This can't be done with social. Social provides an amazing network of connected people who will share your message and give their opinions on it (if it's good enough). Yes, you can target messages to social media groups but how do you know what their marketing budget is or what products they're currently using? The level of personalisation just isn't the same.

So, is it a competition or a love-in?

Most marketers that we speak to here at Pure360 are interested in social media, but don't want to simply replace their email campaigns with this new trend. They'd rather have social media compliment a campaign and develop ways in which they can work better together. These two channels aren't competing against each other. One isn't taking over the other, because they can work so much better as a pair. Use social media channels the best way it knows how – to share your main message. Use social to build your email lists, get subscribers and share your email messages via these new social channels, meaning more eyeballs on one message.

My point is this

1. Social is doing great and fast growing to become a solid marketing channel
2. Consumers are capable of dealing with more than one channel
3. Email marketing is established and going nowhere
4. Why not use the two together instead of facing them off?

Abi Clowes is head of marketing at Pure360

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