Email + Social Media: Pushing the Revenue Envelope

September 6, 2012
By Michael Neubarth

Although the integration of email marketing and social media has become a marketing must-do, many marketers are struggling to understand the relationship of the two channels and how to make them work best together. 

A lot of expert advice centers on using social media and email to advertise one another’s presence, steer users from the one medium to the other, share content and offers, and grow the number of followers and subscribers in each medium.

While these practices are good for gaining more eyeballs, building email lists, and growing the number of followers, leading-edge marketers are pushing the envelope to integrate social media and email in new and more productive ways. One of the most promising revenue boosting methods involves marketing campaigns in which the social media activity of prospects and customers is monitored and harnessed to trigger personalized emails. 

That triggered emails are more effective has been reflected in the findings of the Email Trends and Benchmarks reports of Epsilon and the Email Experience Council over the last two years. The latest report found that open rates for triggered messages were 75% higher than business-as-usual email in Q1 2012, and that triggered click rates were 119% higher. 

As Cara Olson of Marketing Land reports, triggered emails generate the highest performance metrics, including ROI, of all emails sent. However, as Olson and a number of other marketers also point out, the triggers themselves have become in many ways routine and standardized—emails sent on anniversaries, customers’ birthdays, after a sale, when a shopping cart is abandoned, etc. (For more examples, see Loren McDonald’s “Behavior-Based Email Triggers? Let Me Count The Ways”) 

While most brands have taken the step to create emails in these standard triggered categories, says Olson, “it may be time to revisit your triggered programs to expand their coverage and deepen their sophistication, creating more engaged subscribers and most importantly, more revenue from email.” 

Another marketer arguing for fresh approaches to boost the effectiveness of email marketing is Amanda Hinkle, who describes how social media content, among other types of data, can be mined to provide insights that enable marketers to boost revenues via up-selling and cross-selling in their emails. The data, says Hinkle, can give marketers “a treasure trove of insight into the types of products to recommend to customers in cross-sell or up-sell situations.”

Among the marketers pushing the triggered email + social media envelope is eWayDirect CEO Neil Rosen, whose “chatter marketing” goes beyond standard triggers like shopping cart abandonment by triggering email in response to a wider range of users’ social media activity. As Rosen explains, you follow “what pages on your website they visit, what links they click on, what message boards they participate in, what reviews they scan, what groups they join, whose tweets they follow, and so on.” Using this method, says Rosen, you can achieve a 100% to 200% increase in clicks and opens vs. standard email campaigns.

The key to achieving these results, Rosen explains, is to listen to what your customers are saying, either directly or through actions they take while on your website, and respond to them with relevant content and offers. One of Rosen’s favorite comparisons is that of a salesman in a store who eavesdrops on the conversation of his customers and is able to use the information to sell persuasively. “The difference,” he says, “is that instead of walking up to the customer, you’re sending him or her an email—or a series of emails—focusing on his or her expressed interests.”

A key tenet of Rosen’s method is that it is 100% opt-in and involves tracking and sending messages only to people who have given you permission to send them messages and track their activities. The success of this relationship rests on establishing trust. Once trust is established, says Rosen, “the customer will see the marketer has his best interest at heart and will, in turn, trust the marketer’s recommendations, campaigns, and outreach.”

An important element in this approach is the personalized nature of the emails you send. That personalized emails are more effective than non-personal ones was one of the key findings in a recent SilverPop study that found that companies that provide personalized behavior-based content are far more likely to receive the highest ranking for open rates, click-through rates, and clicks-per-clicker. 

Putting it all together, you have a winning formula by combining social media, triggered email, opt-in permission, a trusting relationship, and personalization. 

However, as DJ Waldow, co-author of “The Rebel’s Guide to Email Marketing” with fellow social media guru Jason Falls, notes, the integration of social media and email marketing is a new frontier with the rules still being created. "And,” he says, “if the rules are still to be created, rebel, you may have the chance to make up a few of your own!”