Leverage social media with the inbox for better returns

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Social media has the potential to increase the value of an e-mail for both the brand and the consumer. As consumers spend more and more time on the social Web, smart marketers are integrating social media capabilities into their e-mail programs. This integration allows marketers to expand the reach of their e-mail campaigns while enabling consumers to build community ties.

While the e-mail inbox remains the most critical point in digital communication, it is no longer the only place for meaningful, online conversations. The social Web is changing the way businesses develop everything from loyalty programs to websites. E-mail marketers have been struggling for years with shrinking e-mail lists and decreasing open rates. Social media opens up new opportunities. For example, you can use e-mail to seed participation in social channels, running programs that drive ‘likes' to Facebook or ‘follows' on Twitter.

E-mail is an excellent place to recruit participation in a brand's social community, but it is even better for leveraging a customer's social graph for new customers. A brand's e-mail list typically represents the most engaged consumers, and therefore the most likely to advocate for a brand.

User-generated content has become a critical part of the consumer buying process, as ratings and reviews have a major impact in moving a consumer from the comparison to the purchase stage of the buying cycle. With comparison shoppers trusting peer insight more than marketing messages, e-mail can mitigate this waning influence by identifying and encouraging “best customers” to share their experience online.

Referral marketing is also blurring the line between e-mail and social media. While “forward to a friend” and “share with your network” have traditionally produced immaterial results, new referral models are having a significant impact. Brands can now specifically target their best customers and those most active on the social Web and leverage e-mail to offer incentives and rewards for online referrals and advocacy.

E-mail enables targeting that is difficult with other social channels, while social media delivers scale and accountability to word-of-mouth marketing. The blurring of lines between the two will ultimately benefit both channels, as well as the brands and consumers that interact with them.

Sam Cece is the CEO of StrongMail. Reach him at scece@strongmail.com.

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