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

At American Airlines, the channels are handled by different groups within the organization: social media by the emerging media marketing group and email by the traditional marketing department. “I'm not sure that will last forever,” says Schwendinger. “Once we get our arms around social media, it might come into the traditional marketing group.”

However, Schwendinger says that having the two channels separate doesn't create issues internally. “There is a bit of coordination internally, but it's not cumbersome. We just have to work together,” he says. “A lot of the language we get approved by partners for an email we can use in social media.”

This kind of coordination is strategic because brands have to make sure not to overwhelm the consumer, often receiving messages from both channels. Rent the Runway lets its members set their own email preferences so they can decide how much they hear from the brand via email. The company also coordinates email and social media posts so as not to over-message. “There is a fine balance between giving customers all the information

that they want and overwhelming them,” says Crystal. “We have some dedicated customers that want 10 emails a week, but others want much less.”

VanBoskirk says that there are not a lot of formal social media departments within organizations. “It tends to handled by PR or digital marketing, depending on which department has the bandwidth,” she says. “It doesn't always make sense to have social media managed by the email manager, but their efforts should be coordinated together.”

For Karmaloop, an e-commerce company that sells urban fashion, both email and social media are housed within the marketing department, which has a few staffers working on each. “Different people are working on them, but they always chime in on what is going on,” says Giovannah Chiu, marketing director at Karmaloop. “We work on developing promotions together.”

According to Forrester Research, spend for email and social media was exactly the same in 2010, but the research company predicts that social media spend will surpass email in 2011. That doesn't necessarily mean social media is more important than email; actually,

social spend encompasses a number of different executions. While email spend generally refers to email delivery, analytics and creative, social media encompasses everything from building a community and a listening platform to campaign-management tools.

“The challenge for email is that social media is much sexier in everyone's mind than in email,” says VanBoskirk. “There is competition because social is cooler and there are not a lot of innovations coming out of email. However, email is still a strong channel in terms of delivering results.”

But just because email isn't as trendy as social media doesn't mean that it isn't effective. According to Econsultancy's Email Marketing Census 2011 report, 72% of companies rate email as “excellent” or “good” for return on investment. “Email drives sales,” says Chiu. “At the end of the day, we are a retail company, and driving sales is our goal.”

Chiu explains that email, unlike social media, is driven by data, which is more effective in selling products. “We have customer intelligence based on past purchase behavior and we can gear emails directly to that customer,” she says.

Schwendinger explains that one of the big social media challenges at American Airlines is that it's difficult to target messaging. “With email we have the data, so we can target,” he says. “The two will have to continue to work together.”

Despite the fact that it doesn't have email's powerful data set, social intelligence is not without its merits. Brands get direct feedback from the customers on Facebook and Twitter pages, and this content can be turned into compelling email messaging. Karmaloop uses content from its Facebook users in email marketing. “We get comments and feedback on Facebook, and using this we can discern what kinds of things people

want to hear about from us,” says Chiu. “This helps us put together emails with fresh content.”

Rent the Runway does this as well. “We have a weekly style-sheet email that goes out on Friday, and it includes an overview of what is happening on our blog and on Facebook so that members can really participate in the conversations that are happening,” says Crystal.

With its power to amplify offers, build lists and connect brands to new audiences, social media is the perfect partner for email marketing, and that relationship isn't going to change anytime soon. “Email programs are made stronger with social content, and the awareness of social programs comes from email,” says VanBoskirk. “Smart marketers have some understanding of how these two channels work together.

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