We all laughed a few months ago when Facebook's COO, Sheryl Sandberg, appears to write email's obituary (See "Dear Facebook COO - Email Use is Shifting, Not Dying"). Facebook apparently agreed with us all along.
Two email developments not only reinforce our view that email continues to be a strong and valued marketing channel but also send a warning that your email database could be in for a shake-up:
- The email world is awash in expectations that Facebook will unveil a full Web-based email client, code-named "Project Titan" and nicknamed "the Gmail Killer," at a press conference today (Nov. 15).
- AOL stole a bit of Facebook's thunder on Sunday when it launched "Project Phoenix," an updated version of its email client, now in beta testing but scheduled to roll out to all users in 2011.
Although AOL beat Facebook to the punch with a confirmed product announcement, more eyes are trained on Facebook because of the greater disruptive potential for an email client tied to the social-networking giant and its estimated 550 million users.
For marketers, both developments could cause significant email address churn thanks to an expected flood of new domains. Those who defect from Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail or other email services will now, if reports are true, have the option of receiving email at yourname@Facebook.com.
AOL, once the dominant email service, also is offering new domains, including "ygm.com" (from the familiar phrase "You've got mail!"), love.com, wow.com and games.com.
Is Your Email Program Prepared?
In a 2009 Forrester Research study, 27 percent of consumers that use email change their email address each year. A one-two punch from a new Facebook email client and new AOL-related domains could raise that number significantly.
Your email program must be ready to manage these changes and to encourage subscribers to change their email addresses rather than abandon them.
Below is a checklist of actions you can take now and which will benefit your email's hygiene and deliverability, even if your database doesn't end up meeting list-churn predictions:
1. Add an Address Change Option to Your Preference Center.
Do this ASAP. If you already have this functionality, make sure it is front and center, easy to use and actually works.
2. Add a Change-Address Link to Your Email.
Not making it easy for subscribers to change email address is perhaps the single biggest oversight among email marketers.
Consider including all three of the following links in your email administrative footer:
- Change Email
- Update Preferences
3. Add an Update Reminder to Welcome Email Copy.
Explain to new subscribers that they can change their addresses and update preferences at any time. Include a highly visible link to your preference center.
4. Add A Link to Your Preference Center On Facebook.
If you have an email opt-in form or link on your company's Facebook page, consider adding a link to your preference center for those who might want to change to their new Facebook address.
5. Tune Up Your Message Design.
While we haven't seen any possible message configurations or specifications on either Facebook or AOL email, your message templates should accommodate the following conditions, which already apply to many email clients:
- Design is optimized for blocked images
- Use alt text in image tags
- Use "bulletproof buttons" which render even with images disabled
- Consider limiting message width to a max of 550 to 600 pixels
- Add text to the preheader, which recaps your value proposition or call to action and often appears in preview snippets in various email clients.
Read More About It
Check back on this blog for updates on the Facebook and AOL announcements. In the meantime, here's what others have been saying about Facebook's expected Project Titan announcement and AOL's Project Phoenix unveiling:
1. TechCrunch: "Facebook’s Gmail Killer, Project Titan, Is Coming On Monday"
2. The Relevancy Group: "Splash Of The Titan - Facebook's Entry Into Webmail Underscores Email's Role As A Titan"
3. Econsultancy: "Ready for YourName@Facebook.com?" - http://econsultancy.com/us/blog/6849-ready-for-yourname-facebook-com
4. Mashable: "AOL Unveils 'Project Phoenix,' Its New Webmail App"