Socializing with the eec Email Design Roundtable: A Discussion on the Integration of Social Media and Marketing Email

The eec Email Design Roundtable recently spent some time discussing an industry hot topic: the integration of email marketing and social networking.

Social networking generally makes its way into email in two primary ways:
(1) Through appeals in email for subscribers to join an existing social network.
(2) “Share with Your Network” (SWYN) invitations for subscribers to share email content with their networks. While these are each fairly simple, there are important creative and strategic considerations that contribute to email success, as well as innovative ways to bring user-generated content (UGC) into email.

Each Design Roundtable member offered fresh insights and ideas to the evolving body of best practices around social optimization in email. Below is a summary of key points from the conversation:

  • When it comes to making emails more viral, content is king. However, creative elements can contribute to the successful integration of social media. How can design and copy encourage social behavior?

    Tim Siukola, ExactTarget: Use the same design “toolbox” to draw attention to alternate ways to interact, keeping the toolbox consistent across campaigns.

    Lisa Harmon, Smith-Harmon: Including the toolbox in a “Share Bar” or “SWYN Module” in the header or footer of the email makes the most sense for most marketers.

    Chad White, Smith-Harmon: Integrating the social appeal into clever calls-to-action (i.e. “Help a college student save money – forward this email!”) can garner more interest than simple links. But some also announce their social networking presences through emails focused entirely on social. For example, Shoeline found that by announcing their social networking presence through a social-dedicated email and then adding a prominent banner in later emails increased subscriber engagement by 57% (Source: Style Campaign).

    Justine Jordan, ExactTarget: For organizations with tight-nit communities and/or UGC, integrating photos is a strong way to engage subscribers. It also plays off the significant voyeur aspect of social networking! In addition, integrating the social network icons encourages participation by building recognition across email campaigns.

  • What strategic considerations are important in integrating social networking with email marketing campaigns?

    Megan Walsh, Williams-Sonoma: For retail, the challenge is prioritization of “Share vs. Sell.” You have to weigh the benefits of directing subscribers to engage with the brand’s social network with the importance of ROI. Ideally, the integration is done so that “share” and “sell” complement one another.

    Chad White: “Social Influencer” has emerged as a new category of customer that could be used in email segmentation (similar to non-buyers or early adopters). This segmentation would serve the same purpose as brands targeting of bloggers – making sure that messages are reaching the most influential people in the audience. Measuring the success would call for a different set of ‘performance’ metrics.

    Brooks Bell, Brooks-Bell Interactive: In non-retail messaging, it’s valuable to think about how upsell messaging and lifecycle messages can be engaging enough to warrant them ‘shareworthy’ in the eyes of subscribers.

  • How does the use of rich media impact social behavior?

    Lisa Harmon: Is there a way to adapt the visual language of rich media to the email channel, in a way that makes messages more viral? Subscribers should be excited to share content with friends, and rich media contributes to enthusiasm around a particular message.

    Tim Siukola: People are more apt to share video than text with others – it’s more likely that subscribers will think of rich media content as appealing to people in their networks.

    Ron Blum, Upromise: People are also very likely to share text content – whether it’s newspaper articles, magazine articles – any type of content – not just rich media. If you look at Twitter, people are sharing tons of URLs to text content.

    Chad White: That’s definitely true in the B2B circle. It takes much longer to assimilate information via video. You can assimilate information via text much more quickly than via video.

    Raj Khera, MailerMailer: In Twitter, in the B2B space, people link to charts too… While that isn’t text, it’s not rich media; it’s something in between. People tend to like to share those types of visuals.

  • What are some examples of good social marketing via email?

    Tim Siukola: Urban Outfitters includes network logos at the bottom of their emails and promotes special social features when they have them.

    Lisa Harmon: American Apparel held a DIY costume contest where they encouraged subscribers to submit photos of themselves in American Apparel costumes. They also showed last year’s winner in the email. This is a good share + sell example.

  • Final Remarks
    Who is an expert on these topics? No one! We’re all new to the game, and it’s important to be in the game, regardless of any anxieties about how far ahead competitors might be. The most important thing is to consider what makes sense for your brand and how you can use social elements to create a unified experience that engages subscribers.