Email, social media: marriage or divorce?

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Rent the Runway integrates social media and email
Rent the Runway integrates social media and email
In February and March of this year, the company ran an email campaign offering recipients the opportunity to earn a surprise number of miles in exchange for “liking” the AAdvantage Facebook page.

The “Mystery Miles” email campaign was effective. Within 10 minutes of its launch, the AAdvantage page had achieved 6,000 likes. A day after the email message went out, the AAdvantage Facebook page had attracted about 163,000 likes. Overall, the month-long  campaign generated more than 250,000 likes to the AAdvantage Facebook page and more than 7,500 followers on Twitter. In the first week of the campaign, American Airlines saw the acquisition of new AAdvantage members increase by 65%, since membership was required to participate.

“Email is a proven channel that we have at our disposal,” says Greg Schwendinger, manager of AAdvantage partner marketing strategy. “We used it to get the ball rolling with the hopes that we would create viral hooks that would allow it to snowball from there.”

Schwendinger says he's not concerned that social media will overtake email. Instead, he says, the two channels can work together to make for a stronger marketing platform. “Social has the amplification value, but email still provides that personal message, which is very important for Advantage members,” he says.

American Airlines worked on this campaign with its email marketing agency of record, e-Dialog. Dan McDermott, the agency's marketing communications manager, says that using email and social media in tandem helps build lists for both channels. “Subscriber acquisition has become more difficult these days, and integrating email and social media is a great way to address this issue,” he says. “When you have the engagement opportunity that social media provides with amplification and friend recommendations, it is a great way to draw people into an acquisition email.”

Adding social links to email messages has become a standard practice, according to Silverpop's 2011 Top 500 Retailers report. The company reported that 78% of top retailers do so.

Back in February, when Facebook began rolling out its email platform Facebook Messages, marketers got concerned. And rightfully so, according to Facebook. The purpose of the new “social inbox” is to reduce the number of marketing messages Facebook users receive.

But so far, it hasn't hurt the email channel. “It is not a matter of email replacing Facebook or Facebook Messages replacing email. It just expands the kind of communications that consumers have,” says VanBoskirk. “Now I have an additional inbox with a different kind of communication.”

Nicholas Einstein, VP of deliverability and strategic services at Datran Media, argues that email itself is a form of social media. “The operative word in social media is social, which needs to be woven across channels and fully integrated to be effective,” he says. “Integrating new media into an email program is key, but email is absolutely alive and well.”

Still, the integration is not without its challenges. One of the obstacles brands face is integrating the channels across departments. According to Econsultancy's Email Marketing Census 2011 report, email and social media activity are managed as separate channels at 45% of companies. For some marketers, social media is handled in a separate department than email, while for others they are handled by the same department, even by the same person.

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