Last week, I attended eTail East in Baltimore. This was the first time that I've ever been to Baltimore, and I was hoping to get an opportunity to be a tourist and have my picture taken outside the door of Charm City Cakes. But alas, time was too tight and I wasn't able to get there. As a consolation prize, I got a chance to sit on the outside deck at the Hilton with about 20 other guests and watch the Orioles win their game against the White Sox in extra innings.
But I digress...
At eTail, I had the opportunity to be a roundtable host on Email Marketing and Segmentation Day. This was the first time that I had ever been a roundtable host - much less participate in such an event. It's a pretty interesting format where attendees sit in a large ballroom at - you guessed it - round tables, each one seating up to twelve people. The job of the roundtable host is to facilitate conversation among those seated at the table on a particular topic. Together with my colleague from Hot Topic, my topic for discussion at my roundtables was "Social Email: What's New? What's Next". After twenty minutes of discussion, a bell rings and the roundtable hosts get up from the table, move to another table, sit down, and then have another twenty minute discussion on the same topic with those seated at that new table.
This time, there were six tables with about twelve people at each. So I was able to have great discussions with about eighty people - the majority of whom were responsible for their respective companies' email marketing programs. I met people from the U.S., the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany, who represented both consumer brands (Zappos.com, Staples, and Amtrak) as well as one gentleman whose company sold cable ties and molded connector components.
My company chose social email for my discussion topic because we wanted to talk directly with online marketers and see whether the adoption of social media marketing was as widely adopted as industry analysts and members of the marketing media would have us believe.
For of all, I am a believer in social email. Brands are using social sites as a means of providing a venue for their customers to engage with each other as well as with the brand itself. Social sites are all about one-to-many conversations. Email marketing, on the other hand, when done correctly includes content that is personalized and relevant to the individual, making it a one-to-one conversation. There are times when it's appropriate to have a one-to-many discussion and there are times when it's appropriate to have a one-to-one discussion. (How many times has it been when you've been in a meeting - a one-to-many discussion - and someone says, "let's take that discussion off-line" - a one-to-one discussion).
So, after talking to about eighty different online marketers, here's what I learned about social email:
- In spite of what's being reported in the media and analysts, marketers are still experimenting with social media marketing.
- Easily 98% of marketers I met at the roundtables are "doing social media marketing" only because "everyone else is"; there is no clear strategy for using social media as a new marketing channel.
- Using a social site just to promote products and services is falling flat. Using social sites to drive community engagement is what's working the best; the real question is whether social media is appropriate for all brands, i.e. is anyone in the B2B space that is getting good engagement from Facebook?
- Marketers are struggling with proving real ROI with social media marketing. As one person put it: "I have one hour to spend either on email marketing or social media marketing. Email marketing is a known quantity with known ROI; social media isn't. It’s a no-brainer to choose email marketing over social media marketing in that light."
- The majority of brands I spoke with have separate people doing social media marketing and email marketing. As a result, coordinated strategies between social media and email marketing are minimal.
- Using social media as an opt-in source for email marketing is resonating very well. Hardly anyone is doing it, and when I mentioned the advantages of doing it, there was consistently a lot of head nodding and enthusiastic note taking.
- "Share-to-social" is "been there done that" and is falling flat. Marketers are not seeing any benefit to this tactic.
- User-generated content (e.g. user-entered product reviews) is a HUGE resonator. As one attendee put it, "If you’re not incorporating user-generated in your emails today, you’re already behind.
- Strategies for combining social and email marketing in a coordinated strategy was an eye-opener to almost everyone I spoke with. There was certainly a lot of interest to learn more.
Social sites are excellent channels for building your opt-in email database with highly qualified leads. Assuming that your brand has already set up a social site, then people are already engaging with your brand through posts, "friend"-ing, and "like"-ing. If you provide email opt-in capability on your social site, then anyone going the extra step of opting in to your email marketing program is a person seeking a deeper, more personal engagement.
So, is your brand using social networking sites? Is so, what is it being used for? For pushing promotions? For building community? Anything else? Leave me a comment. I've love to hear from you.