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

For an example of social media and email marketing making beautiful music together, look no further than Rent the Runway, an e-commerce company that rents out designer dresses. For the company, Facebook has proved a most effective way to acquire new customers. Members must enter their email addresses to use the site. The company

then captures emails through a Facebook tab signup page, as well as through Facebook contests and giveaways that direct potential customers back to the company's website.

“Facebook is a great tool for acquiring new customers, because people want to see what their friends are up to,” says Lara Crystal, VP of brand marketing at Rent the Runway. “Renting is organically social. No one is renting to stay at home. They are renting to go out and see friends and get complimented on how great they look.”

Are email marketing and social media marketing a partnership made in heaven, or will social media lead to email's demise? Last year, a MarketingSherpa survey found that nearly one-quarter of email marketers felt challenged by “competition with social media for a consumer's time and attention,” with 71% of those surveyed expecting social media to become even more of a force over time. Despite that concern, there is no sign that social media will lead to the death of email. If anything, it is helping make email stronger.

“To me, they are very complementary,” says Crystal. “While they are different, they can be used side by side. Social media enables us to showcase new products on the site and get people to join. We use email marketing as a way to direct them to these two-way conversations on our social media pages.”

While Facebook helps Rent the Runway grow its database list, the company is still driven by email. The company, which works with Experian CheetahMail for email, currently has 1.25 million email subscribers and about 40,000 Facebook fans. Crystal says that  Facebook helps the email list grow, and vice versa.

Rent the Runway's integration of email and social media is common across the industry. “Smart marketers use all of their social assets to gather emails, and they use their emails to encourage engagement via social media too,” says Shar VanBoskirk, VP and principal analyst at Forrester Research.

For most marketers, a social media following is only a fraction of the size of an email list. Brands' email subscribers outnumber Facebook “likes” by an average of 70-to-1, according to a Silverpop survey. This is true for Rent the Runway as well as American Airlines, which has 5 million email subscribers yet only a fraction of that number of Facebook fans.

In fact, American Airlines found that email was the best tool to help it build up its social media following. American wanted to get into social media to attract a younger audience.

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