Email and Social Media: Better together

Now that we’re firmly ensconced in 2011, it’s time to bury one of the major marketing debates of 2010: whether social media will supersede email. Even Facebook itself, with its launch a few months ago of integrated messaging that includes email, seems to have acknowledged that email and social media offer different, complementary strengths, and only by integrating both channels in your marketing efforts can you reap the maximum benefits of each.

“Email and social media are two unique channels that are different in both tone and frequency,” says John Foley Jr., CEO of online software provider interlinkONE. For example, emails are typically more serious as compared to social media posts, he says. While both outlets may be used to share informative materials, social media is better suited as a platform to demonstrate your company’s personality.

“Don’t get me wrong: Emails should be personable too, but, certainly, only to an extent,” Foley says. “People expect social media sites to have a definite human touch, and when you put that forward, you can greatly increase the relationship between your company and your prospects and customers.”

Consumers’ varying expectations for each medium extend to the frequency of communications. Most email subscribers would probably be dismayed to receive one or several daily messages from a business. But they expect frequent Facebook posts and Twitter messages.

In a sense, engaging with customers via both email and social media is akin to enabling them to shop from you via both brick-and-mortar stores and the web. The more options you offer, the more likely it is that one of them will meet the customer’s needs at a particular time.


In its simplest terms, integrating social media and email serves two main purposes: encouraging people to engage with your brand in multiple media, and using the data from the multiple media to better target your messaging.

Most marketers focus almost exclusively on the first purpose. What’s more, when doing so many think it’s enough to include in their emails links to their Facebook pages and Twitter feeds and to post an email opt-in link on their Facebook walls.

While you certainly should take those steps if you haven’t already, there’s a lot more you can do.

  • Make sharing content effortless

    Share-with-your-network (SWYN) buttons embedded within an email enable recipients to post content from the message or a link to an online version of the message to social media sites. Many organizations already have SWYN links on their websites; including them in emails is the next logical step.

    “When someone clicks the link, their ‘status’ box should be prepopulated with a short URL that points to the article,” Foley advises. “You can also include a brief message around the link, which people can certainly customize.”

    “The ideal in many respects is to have other people do your marketing for you,” says Dan Ciporin, a partner in investment firm Canaan Partners. “You’ve got to give them the tools and the framework to do that in a way that is genuine.”

  • Offer email subscribers coupons and discounts in exchange for following you on Facebook or other social media

    Let’s face it: Most people click the “like” button of a brand’s Facebook page primarily to receive special offers. Shannon Aronson, senior director, strategic and analytical consulting group at Epsilon, recommends addressing this from the get-go by offering subscribers incentives to follow your brand in other media.

    Make sure those incentives are pertinent to your brand, though: Giving away $1,000 to a random Facebook fan will attract swarms of people interested in winning the money, not in your company. Giving away gift cards for your wares, as Lands’ End recently did, will attract people who have an affinity for your brand, which is of course your ultimate goal.

  • Include hot topics and catchy quotes from your social media outlets within your emails

    If there’s a thread on your Facebook wall about a new product that’s been reaping a great deal of response, refer to it in your email and include a link to the page. Or you could ask your Twitter followers to sum up your brand in 140 characters or fewer and then include your favorite tweets within your email message. And don’t forget to include links to your YouTube videos in your emails.

  • Post links to your social media outlets on your email unsubscribe pages

    You might think this a ridiculous suggestion: After all, if they were happy to engage with your brand, these consumers wouldn’t be unsubscribing.

    But it may be the medium and not your brand that these unsubscribers are unhappy with. Acknowledging this with copy along the lines of, “We understand that you no longer wish to receive emails from us. But perhaps you’d like to continue to stay in touch through Facebook instead” could maintain the customer engagement.


If you’re sending subscribers who also follow you via social media the same messages that you send email subscribers who don’t, you’re failing to get the most from your media integration. For one thing, customers who receive communications from you via multiple channels or, even better, who take advantage of the two-way nature of social media in addition to simply receiving your messages, are likely to be more committed to your brand. And you certainly want to reward these customers for their loyalty to encourage them to remain engaged.

“You need to promote the notion that by engaging with you, the customer gets recognition and appreciation in the form of an ego boost or specific incentives, or most likely both,” Ciporin says. One way to do so is to create a segment of your email list consisting of subscribers who are also Facebook fans, YouTube subscribers or Twitter or LinkedIn followers, and then periodically send them messages offering exclusive discounts or product previews.

Going a step further, Ryan Deutsch, vice president of emerging media at ThreadMarketing, a StrongMail company, suggests identifying email subscribers who are not only following you via social media, but are also actively spreading the word about your business: “It’s one thing to insert sharing and put links to your Facebook page and say, ‘Follow us on Twitter’; it’s another thing to identify those who are influential within your brand.”

One of Deutsch’s clients used an incentive program to identify its 50 most influential email subscribers. Subscribers were rewarded with a discount for each sale they generated by sharing links via social media. The company tracked, among other things, how many times subscribers forwarded or shared an email and how many subsequent visits and conversions those actions generated.

After determining which subscribers were the most influential, the company created a model based on those consumers. It then “created unique content and offers for those advocates to leverage so that they feel an attachment to that brand going forward,” Deutsch says.

You could also take your database modeling efforts a step further, ranking your file not just by RFM — the tried-and-true recency/frequency/monetary value — but by adding a fourth component. RFM, meet RFMA: recency/frequency/monetary value/advocacy, or the value of the customer’s extended reach as determined by how much his referrals spend with the brand.

How your subscribers engage with your brand via social media can provide you with useful targeting data as well. Cataloger/retailer Orvis, for example, has multiple Twitter feeds dedicated to particular sectors of its market: OrvisFlyFishing, OrvisDogs, OrvisWomens, OrvisMens. It could run the names of each feed’s followers against its email database and test sending subscribers who follow OrvisDogs emails focused on its canine-related offers.

The ability to segment your email subscriber file and send highly targeted messages in this way is a major advantage that email has over social media. “Facebook and Twitter tend to be broadcast channels still,” Deutsch says. “If I can convince someone to subscribe to my email channel, I can begin to have a much more one-to-one conversation with him.”

At the same time, by communicating via social media as well, you can expand your reach to those who haven’t opted in to your email file, or who don’t regularly open your messages. “Email open rates continue to decline,” Deutsch notes. Assuming that the average open rate for retail emails is approximately 20%, “Think about the uplift you can achieve if you are able to re-engage the 80% who don’t open your emails when they come in.”


You can and should use email marketing to lead people to your social media pages, just as you can and should use social media to enlist email subscribers.

But if you don’t provide your customers and prospects with valuable, consistent (but not redundant) content on both channels, you risk alienating them from your brand altogether.
— JOHN FOLEY JR., CEO, interlinkONE


Offer email subscribers coupons and discounts in exchange for following you on Facebook or other social media. Giving away gift cards for your wares, as Lands’ End recently did, will attract people who have an affinity for your brand, which is, of course, your ultimate goal.