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Why Email Needs to Become More 'Social'

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by: Loren McDonald (@LorenMcDonald)
30 March 2009

To answer my own question from my recent blog post "Have Social Networks Killed the Birthday Email?" I say no, they haven't. In fact, the birthday email, the anniversary reminder and similar email messages could help keep email relevant and alive as a marketing channel.

What has to change, however, is the way email marketers approach their own email programs.

Why has social networking taken off like a rocket over the last two to three years? Because people are hungry to connect and share information with each other in any way they can.

Social networks let them do that easily and in exciting new ways. They can meet up with people from their past (think, with people they'd like to meet (think LinkedIn or Twitter) or with friends and family in new ways (think Facebook).

Social Media Is Changing the Email Landscape

Email has been a connecting point, too, even though spam and overzealous companies started to pollute the channel. Today, more email users are savvy and sophisticated about how they manage their email. Their expectations and use of email are evolving, both from years of experience and from their involvement with social networking.

Marketers who don't understand or respond to this rapid and radical change in expectations will likely see their email programs decline in performance and engagement. In short, email needs to become even more "social" in its tone, personality, conversational style and relevance.

Work Harder to Stand Out in the Inbox

In my Email Insider column, "Will Social Media Kill the Email Star?" I urge marketers to think about how the inbox has evolved over the years, to find ways to make their messages stand out, and to get management buy-in for the resources you need to take your email program to the higher level you need to maintain your program's ROI.

This isn't a new plea. However, social-network notifications, which are triggered emails that speak directly to the recipient instead of a broadcast audience, up the ante even more.

This doesn't mean you necessarily have to throw out your entire email program and start over. However, you do need to rethink how your emails are positioned relative to this influx of social network emails and increased volume of commercial messages--and what your subscribers want and expect from you in this environment.

These changes go beyond adding share-to-social links in your emails and are really about creating an email experience for your subscribers that reflects what you know about them and when, what and how they want to be communicated to from your company.

It also isn't simply about turning your emails into 140-character Tweets. It is, however, about recognizing that many email subscribers now expect less selling and more education, less corporate speak and more personality, content and recommendations from their peers. And they likely expect all of those to be done in a manner that is short, sweet and scannable on a mobile device.

Are your personal expectations with email changing? Are you making changes in your email program to reflect this new social environment? Let us know your observations in the comments section.


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