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Have Social Networks Killed the Birthday Email?

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by: Loren McDonald (@LorenMcDonald)
20 March 2009

We all know how the Web and email have changed the way we communicate with each other and with companies, but the light bulb really went on for me when I looked at the ways friends, co-workers and peers sent me greetings before, on and after my recent birthday.

First, here's the tally of how and from whom I received happy birthday wishes:

1 - direct mail (Southwest Airlines)
1 - personal phone call from our Lexus dealer
1 - work email (a savvy co-worker who thought an email would be more special and different)
2 – emails from companies (Olympus, Pasta Pomodoro)
2 - Twitter direct message (this is a one-to-one private message)
7 - Twitter @replies (these are public messages)
7 - in person (wife, two daughters and four members of The Cheesecake Factory waitstaff)
33 - Facebook messages via Facebook's new home page feed and email notifications

The first time I viewed many of the Facebook wishes was via email notifications that let me know someone had posted a note on my Facebook wall.

They really stood out in my inbox, whereas on the marketing side, the commercial interactions were the same old thing: "Free shipping!" "XX percent off!" "Buy now!"

Only two marketers used the personal data I have willingly shared with them--in this case, my birth date--to send me unique, personal and relevant messages.

On top of this comes the Nielsen Online survey claiming that social networks and blogs have become more popular online activities than email.

I'll be exploring what this all means for email marketing in future blog posts and my Email Insider column, but for now this insight stands out:

The evolution in digital communication channels and the ways people are using them mean marketers have to work harder on building relevance, using the customer data they have to send more relevant, targeted messages.

Just mail-merging someone's name into the subject line doesn't make this happen. Nor is this another plea for segmentation. Rather, it means creating emails that are more personal, sound more like a dialogue than a TV pitch and reflect some personality other than "sell, sell, sell!"

Otherwise, they'll fade into insignificance next to the emails that speak to a subscriber's personal interests and relationships.

If you have thoughts about how social networking is intersecting with email and the implications for marketers, I'd love to see them. Post them in the comments below, and stay tuned for more on the changing use of digital communications.


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