Whenever I hear someone talking about the use of social media or about how social media campaigns are going to replace e-mail marketing, direct marketing, public relations or stunt campaigns, I cringe. Early last year, we wrote that there are more ways to reach an audience than ever before. And even in the current economic climate, in which business are reducing marketing budgets while devoting larger chunks of the remaining dollars to online media of one form or another, it is reckless and silly to talk about one marketing channel obsoleting another. Social media, by definition, is collaborative, and effective social media campaigns are always designed with synergy in mind.
This is nowhere more evident than with e-mail marketing. E-mail is already a fairly social marketing channel. Companies send small polls, surveys, and contests in many of their mailings, and an even higher percentage of mailings feature a call to action for the recipient to forward the e-mail to a friend. For a medium that, at its core, is interruptive and monologic, e-mail does a surprisingly good job fostering interactivity and community. Better than perhaps any other method, e-mail allows companies to directly target and engage an audience that has universally expressed interest (by opting to receive the e-mails). What e-mail cannot do, however, is bring customers into direct contact with a company and with each other. Social media can, of course, through blogs or social networks or video or Twitter.
But the larger point is that, when combined, e-mail and social media complement one another and shore up their respective weaknesses to such a significant degree that it’s almost impossible to see how some marketers came to the conclusion that social media campaigns would replace e-mail marketing campaigns. If you want to give customers an avenue for discussion, for instance, you can add information about a company Facebook page (or even an internal forum) to your mailings, thereby giving your e-mail audience a direct path to that discussion. Conversely, you can feature opt-in links for your mailing list on Facebook so that people who discover the page organically can easily subscribe to the e-mail list. This is just one of many simple and straightforward ways e-mail and social media can work together.
But enough with the simple ways. There are far more interesting approaches that leverage the synergy between e-mail and social media campaigns. You could use e-mail to promote the initial launch of a promotional or viral video, or use a blog as an informative tool that is also a gateway to premium content distributed only by e-mail. You could leverage social network presence to make your e-mail seem more disarming and familiar, or use both e-mail and social networks to push a contest, game, incentive program, or sale. And as more people enter the social web and mobile e-mail clients continue to improve, there will only be more opportunities like these.
I think the mistake people make when they discount these synergistic strategies is to assume that e-mail campaigns should promote social media, or that social media campaigns should somehow promote e-mail. It is, of course, ridiculous to use one marketing channel to promote yet another marketing channel, and any company who does so will not have an effective marketing program. To take the first simple example I gave, the synergy I’m talking about has nothing to do with sending an e-mail to your subscribers that tells them your company now has a Facebook page. It has everything to do with adding a small panel to your e-mails that simply tells your subscribers that, should they wish to connect on Facebook, your company is there. Regardless of what marketing channel or combination of channels you are using, your priority must be to give value to your customers.
It’s important to remember that word of mouth marketing and social media campaigns have a somewhat unique ability to act as the proverbial glue that holds a larger marketing program together. Whereas TV advertising, publicity stunts, and even e-mail can’t access targets within their comfort zone, social media’s pervasive presence can. It is the casual voice, the near-constant presence, and the reinforcer. Social media has no means, no method, and no desire to supplant other marketing channels. To suggest otherwise is absurd.