While some wonder whether social media will mean the end of email, the research suggests otherwise. According to MarketingSherpa's 2010 Email Marketing Benchmark Report, only two marketing tactics received an increase in budget in 2009: email and social media.
The truth is, email will retain its important role in helping businesses communicate with prospects and customers for many years to come -- just as social media will. Savvy digital marketers have already begun integrating the two channels, and bringing these two powerful forms of communication together by including share buttons for Twitter and Facebook in outbound emails is an important start.
But the integration of email and social media means businesses have an even better understanding of who their customers and prospects are and how these consumers want to interact with their organizations. It will mean blending the disparate tones deemed appropriate for email, social media, and other digital marketing channels while maintaining their distinct levels of interaction in ways that support the brand. It will mean selecting the right emerging tools and creativity at your disposal to have the kind of conversations with customers that customers want to have in the first place.
Yes, email and social media can truly come together, but how do we go beyond merely recruiting audiences from one communication stream to the other? I believe we need to take our cue from social media itself. There is a kind of intimacy people are coming to expect in their interactions with not only entrepreneurs and small businesses, but big corporations as well. They want to work with people and communities, not companies. Here are five ways to make your emails more personable:
1. Have your emails come from real people
In this new age of digital marketing, your employees are your brand. They're not just spokespeople; they're community leaders. Assign or hire people who reflect or extend the personality of your brand and are comfortable not just with social media, but in being social wherever they are. Then, just as you would put their face on your company Twitter profile (as opposed to a company logo), put their face on your emails. Even company newsletters benefit from the personal stamp of real-life editors and writers, each credited accordingly. Let your customers know a real person is reaching out to them, and you will find more of them are willing to reach back.
2. Let your community leader's personality shine through
Many companies have found that in order to make headway online, they need to be more comfortable in letting company reps simply be themselves. If you've got the right people for the job, you have no reason not to let their personality drive your email campaigns as well. Let your emails share the same characteristics as your community leader. Funny, nostalgic, hopeful -- even stressed -- are human tones that will draw readers in, as long as the emotions are genuine and properly honed. Keep them consistent and you will establish trust.
3. Emphasize community over product
Most businesses don't want recipients to act only on one email. They want customers and prospects to continue paying attention to all of their subsequent emails, too. So don't turn readers off with the first one. Think of your recipients more as readers and less as possible buyers. Entertain them. Inspire them. Move them. As long as you've got someone coming back to the content, you've got someone who would love to do business with you if they could. Maintain regular and ongoing outreach. At the very least, more of your targets will reach back to interact with your company on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks (congratulations, you're building community).
You are probably already using email tracking with a number of sophisticated figures to gauge reader behavior, but are you using this data to speak to your readers when and how they want to be spoken to? Do your online polls do more than merely ask how much money readers have to spend on your products? Is your community leader only using Twitter to talk about your company's latest offering?
For many, your email campaign will be a launch pad deep into the heart of your company, where real people are engaging with real people. Many consumers allow you to get into their hearts, too, so bring a notepad. If most targets are opening your emails at 9 a.m., they are very likely drinking coffee or talking about coffee. Go to search.twitter.com at 9 a.m., punch in the word "coffee" and see. In fact, Twitter Search should be in every email marketer's toolbox to gauge the moods and behaviors of your target audience by location, time, and pretty much anything else, if you're creative enough.
Create bold polls that assess user moods and attitudes. Keep track of the conversations your community leader has with users on Facebook. Use this information in communicating back with customers and prospects. It will help you reach the right person at the right time with the right message and show that you're listening, too.
5. Don't forget to show up
If a customer or prospect clicks through from an email to a social network, then make sure the community is an active one. Too often companies point people to areas where nothing is happening. Don't invite friends to a party and then forget to show. At the very least, your community leader should be regularly checking and responding to messages, especially those that carry questions and complaints.
Remember, once you invite your email readers into the real-time world of social media, your readers will expect to interact with your business in real time. There are solutions available that allow marketers to free up their time for more hands-on interaction by syndicating their broadcast-to-all messages to multiple communication channels.
Ajay Goel is CEO of JangoMail.
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