Social media has become a cardinal driving force behind how brands engage and interact with their customers. Even CMOs are increasingly realizing that social and mobile will have the biggest impact on email marketing in the near future, as seen in MarketingSherpa's email marketing benchmark report for 2012.
Facebook's 750 million active users worldwide (along withTwitter's 500 million and Pinterest's 12 million) make it clear that social media has the power to connect vast amounts of people with each other. However, how companies choose to use this network of social interaction depends as much on the marketer as it does on the audience perched on the other side of the digital film.
How has social media changed consumer behavior?
Traditionally, consumers have relied mostly on product and service information spread by marketers and companies that have something to sell. However, today this process has -- to a large extent -- been taken over by our hunger for discourse and communal consensus. People no longer look to companies alone because the social-mediaverse has provided a forum for discussing almost everything in the public space.
This global forum enables people from almost anywhere in the world to join a discussion revolving around great products or terrible experiences on a real-time basis. Consumers have become accustomed to accessing information that is qualified by the opinions and thoughts of others. Social media has inadvertently enabled people to make decisions based on social statistics compiled organically by simply conversing online.
Another side effect of social media is the increasing demand for imagery in communication and engagement. Sites like Pinterest and Pearltrees make use of images to bring people together and organize mass communities with the same visual triggers. Simply stumbling on to great pictures and "liking" them isn't enough anymore. "Pinning" your favorite images and giving a short description or crediting the visual's creator has become a social prerogative.
Social behavior has evolved into social convergence, and email marketers need to adapt to this shift in order to reach audiences.
Social media movers and shakers
According to a study done by the Compete Institute, 47 percent of the people who follow a brand on Facebook are likely to buy products from that brand. This buying power, however, is dependent on the crowd-sourced opinions shared by users and can easily change based on the marketing material they're exposed to.
Microblogging has grown exponentially since its inception; the largest microblogging platform is Twitter. The Compete Institute noted that 56 percent of people who follow a brand on Twitter are likely to buy its products. Although it does not yet have as big a fan base as some other social media platforms, it certainly makes up for it in user engagement.
Although much smaller than our previously mentioned players, Pinterest -- the image-sharing adolescent -- has quickly grown to a serious contender and holds great potential for marketers who can recognize this. Sharing what you consider to be "cool" or "quirky" is paying off for email marketers who integrate images in their email marketing campaigns.
According to Chad White, research director at Responsys, "More than 50 percent of all major online retailers have used their email programs to promote their activity on Pinterest this year, and marketers are gradually becoming more sophisticated in their use of social content and data."
What does this mean for email marketing?
As mentioned before, the onset of social media has significantly influenced consumer behaviour -- but what does this mean for email marketing and how do we take advantage of this fundamental shift?
Consider this feedback to a survey conducted by Econsultancy.com:
"The correct use of social media could become a tactic to increase email lists, while email will be used to drive users to social. At the minute, there may not necessarily be a lot of overlap between email subscribers and social media followers for some clients. Integration should help change that. Most clients have realized that social won't kill email; instead, integration is needed to optimise both channels."
According to Kipp Bodnar of Hubspot.com, on average, companies only respond to 30 percent of a social media fan's feedback, yet more than 91 percent of adults make use of social media regularly. Online social media allows your business to engage with consumers on a platform that allows real-time interaction, adding a human factor to your business and making it easier for the general public to build rapport with your brand -- if you take advantage of it.
This multidirectional approach to connecting with others ensures a platform for B2C consultation, which is valuable when you realize how important crowd-sourced statistics really are. Being able to draw on a multitude of thoughts and opinions ensures relevant statistics with proximity unlike any other. At the end of the day, isn't email in essence social?
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"Hand holding business collection" image via Shutterstock.