As part of an ongoing research project looking for insight into consumers' online priorities, ExactTarget asked a simple question: "Where is the first place you go online when you first login in a typical day?" We found that 58 percent of online consumers check their email first, compared to the 11 percent who start their day by checking Facebook. Looking deeper, we found that where people start their day online reveals a lot about the rest of their digital day, providing a glimpse into how and where they want to engage with brands.
Consumers who start their day on Facebook tend to be more social-minded. They tend to share more information online and want to maintain a greater distinction between how they feel brands should behave on Facebook versus on email. In general, we found that those who Facebook first tend to engage with brands for entertainment or to stay informed about the brand's activities. In other words, they aren't turning to Facebook for deals and discounts.
We often hear about specific protocols that should be followed in social media -- for example, that interactions on social networks should be, well, social, focusing on collaborative efforts between brands and consumers. This is absolutely essential for the Facebook-first consumer. They don't believe their fan status gives marketers permission to send traditional marketing messages in their social sphere. Permission-based marketing messages are much more appropriate through email.
On the other hand, consumers who check email first tend to be more task-oriented online. They are more likely to be motivated to engage with companies in order to receive offer deals, promotions, or new product information. Many of these consumers are very active on Facebook -- checking the social networking site several times a day -- but their motivations for interacting with brands on Facebook tend to mirror their incentive-oriented motivations in email.
The distinction of how brands should or should not operate on Facebook is not as definite for email-first consumers. These consumers are often looking for things on Facebook that their Facebook-first counterparts might consider tacky. They are happy to "like" brands that offer incentives as a reward for doing so, though they are much less interested in providing feedback to brands on their products and services. In the end, they don't click the like button to support and make friends with the brand -- they want something of value in return!
Younger consumers are more likely to start their day on Facebook than older consumers. We found that 43 percent of teens age 15-17 are likely to start their day on Facebook, compared to 22 percent who start their day with email. However, this changes dramatically when teens enter college and email becomes the tool best suited for dealing with newfound responsibilities. This goes beyond just communicating with professors and potential employers to communication that simply doesn't make sense in social media or via text messaging. As one college senior pointed out, "Email is my way to collaborate on group projects and reach out to others in the organizations that I'm involved in."
While tools exist to provide marketers with first activity information across demographic segments, (including one from ExactTarget) they are still challenged to identify where specific consumers start their digital day. Until that becomes possible, marketers should focus on the following takeaways from the research:
1. Recognize the distinction. Clearly social media is a growing force in the future of communication, yet there is no consensus among consumers as to how brands should engage them on Facebook. There is much more consensus as to what is and is not appropriate for email. As such, email continues to serve as the foundation for traditional one-to-one marketing online. Moreover, 93 percent of online consumers are subscribers, meaning they receive at least one permission-based email a day compared to 38 percent of U.S. online consumers who are Facebook "likers" (i.e., those who have an active account and "like" at least one brand).
2. Find the right balance. Brands should leverage both channels to distribute content focused on entertainment, information, and deals. However, the tone and balance of this content across channels should vary based on target audience. Companies targeting a younger demographic should focus on collaboration and entertainment on Facebook, and should maintain a stronger distinction between Facebook and email content. For companies with an older target audience, promotional content may be more appropriate on Facebook, and the distinction between content on Facebook versus email may be less pronounced.
3. Cross-promote Facebook and email. Marketers need to develop coordinated strategies across these channels focusing on how to leverage the strengths of each to maximize long-term customer engagement. Lack of coordination only results in frustrated consumers who can't figure out where to find the information they are looking for and drives unproductive competition between email and Facebook. Highlight features available on Facebook through email, and use Facebook to promote the advantages of email subscription. In the end, both will be better for it.
The full findings of our study are available in the Digital Morning report, Subscribers, Fans & Followers.
Morgan Stewart is Principal, Marketing Research & Education at ExactTarget.
On Twitter? Follow Morgan at @mostew. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.