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The Return of the Email Digest as an Activation Tool

by: Dave Walters (@_DaveWalters)
29 May 2012

It's funny how often I find myself thinking things that one of my favorite Canadian dudes, Dan Martell, says out loud the same day. I sat down to write this post, and the perfect tweet came through my stream:

"Email digests are back. Facebook was first, then Twitter w/ the acquisition of @summify and today Pinterest sent me one. #smart"

As I often discuss at Agent ROI events around the country, there's research from late 2011 that showed the crazy amount of social content that’s created every 60 seconds of every day. See the graphic below, but suffice it to say there are some pretty staggering numbers, including more than 1,500 blog posts, 80,000 new Facebook wall posts, 100 new LinkedIn accounts and, maybe most astoundingly, 72 hours of YouTube video. With that much information overload, it's no wonder that many of the world's biggest content creators are turning back to an old friend: email.

For many large-scale content creators, the challenge is surfacing the most meaningful information to users regardless of how often (or in what channel) they interact with a brand. This is especially true for a site like Twitter that’s often used in "drop-in" mode. If you're Robert Scoble and you follow 32.5K people, then you're virtually forced into this “snapshot-in-time” use case. On the other hand, I personally hand curate my “following” list to represent topics I'm deeply interested in — with the (mostly successful) goal of reading every tweet from everyone I follow.

The most interesting thing about these digests is that even I rediscover missed content — and I read almost every word of it the first time through. For this reason, I've been a long-time fan of Summify and was pretty pumped when Twitter bought it and the daily email kept coming during the integration phase.

And yes, you just read the word "daily" and yet it's a message that never gets deleted without reading. The Summify team uses a set of rules and variables that keeps the content among the most useful in my inbox. And this is a big statement for me, but I might argue it's the most important every-morning email I receive. First of all, Summify aggregates and weighs linked content based on how many of my followers have shared it — this seemingly simple logic provides the attribute I love the most: relevance on both a topical and network level. There are plenty of times when I've skipped reading an article on the first or second glance, but have gone back after seeing it surface in Summify.

And if I let my analytics-driven mind wander a bit, I can see Twitter making the content even smarter as it integrates Summify into the Big Machine. For example, Twitter knows everything I've clicked on, so why ever surface an already-clicked article into my Summify email? Or maybe it begins to reach outside my following on a topical basis to bring me articles I should be reading. I can imagine a rule that would score users based on their network attributes (number of followers, number of retweets, number of clicks, etc.) and then use that number to ensure Twitter is recommending high-quality content from people I don't already follow.

So what does this mean to the average digital marketer who's not running a highly social business at the scale of a Twitter or Facebook? The answer is plenty! Every brand has some version of its own user-generated content. If you're an ecommerce retailer, it's the most purchased or most viewed SKUs. If you're a large-scale B2B company doing long-cycle lead generation, it's the most successful white papers or other content that effectively moves prospects to named leads.

Done well, these email digests remind users to reconsider your content and offerings on a regular basis. But beware, this is not a program you want to quick-launch. If it seems too easy to get up and running, then you're probably not adding enough relevance to the message. A great email digest should be heavily driven by dynamic content and subtly display a common thread to the users' literal and implied interests.

An excellent example is the message I received today from Pinterest that drove me to write this post:

The core strength here is that the message leads with examples of great design content — and that's really what I share on Pinterest, not recipes or wedding planning. Pinterest stands a much better chance of driving me to click a link and extend my experience with its brand when it demonstrates an understanding of my preferences.

So take a few minutes next time you're campaign planning and ask yourself (and your team) what information is most crucial to your users. What behaviors could you extend by playing back relevant content in a weekly or monthly email digest? Do it well, and you'll both reinforce your best content and drive visits to your site.

Want more marketing tips and insights? Connect with Silverpop on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.


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