The New Inbox Opportunity: Social Networks

Much has been written in the blogosphere about the strange interview Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg gave at SXSW last week. A highly enthused audience combined with a poorly executed interview to create a fairly bizarre scene. The audience apparently took charge and relegated the interviewer, Sarah Lacy, to the role of observer. I wasn’t in Austin last week, but Joshua Baer, Datran Media’s general manager of emerging media, was in the audience and reported back that the interview was indeed out of control. I wish I had been there to witness.

I have been taking special interest in all things Facebook over the past several weeks, as I have been hard at work coming up with strategies for companies to employ when building social networking applications and messaging users who have installed these applications. I believe that the rapid adoption of social networking sites is creating a huge opportunity for emarketers to message some segments of their audience in new and exciting ways. Marketers who are slow to act, or are more skeptical about the power of these networks, however, may be in for a rude awakening.

It is no secret that Facebook and other social networks are changing the way some people interact on the web. For hard core social networking users, these sites have already replaced web portals as the hub of their online experience, and supplanted their email inbox as the primary vehicle for staying in touch with their friends and the world around them. This is a simple fact.

I am not saying that Facebook will replace email as the dominant social networking application for everyone—email is the original social networking application, and by far the most popular—but I am here to report that it probably already has for some segments of your list. And don’t assume that it’s only the underage segments. Charlene Li’s January 7, 2008, Forrester Research “Youth and Social Networks” slides indicate that while the young certainly engage with these sites at a deep level (62% of those surveyed managed their online profile at least weekly), older members managed their profiles only slightly less frequently (54% managing at least weekly). Online social networking is not simply a youth phenomenon.

If you spend a few weeks immersed in a social networking site, you may understand why. Sharing photos is a pleasure, communicating with friends is easy, and marketers/groups only communicate with their users by sending useful, relevant opt-in messaging.

As email marketers we must be at the forefront of communicating with social networking audiences. These sites represent new inbox opportunities and it’s our duty to determine how best to leverage them on behalf of our companies, clients and users. We are well versed in efficiently segmenting audiences and executing relevant campaigns, now we need to figure out how to extend our reach to all inboxes, or risk missing the boat.

How many of you are focused on the social networking sites? Do you have strategies in place for messaging these users? Has your company tested a Facebook strategy and gleaned interesting results? Either comment below, or email me directly at neinstein@datranmedia.com with your story, I am quite interested in learning more, and will incorporate any comments I receive in a future post on the subject.

—Nicholas Einstein of Datran Media