Bleak times ahead for email according to Gartner, which is predicting
that social networks will claim a growing share of communication among
business users.

Seems plausible enough, though any reports of the death of email are
somewhat premature. But can social networking sites claim the
communications crown before this decade is out?

Gartner says: “By 2014, social networking services will replace e-mail
as the primary vehicle for interpersonal communications for 20 percent
of business users.

Cue much head shaking among the email services providers at TFM&A
this week. I asked a few of them to fight their corner, and to provide
an alternative view on the future of email.

StrongMail MD Paul Bates

Anyone that engages in a debate over which channel is superior is approaching this from the wrong angle. Not only do both channels complement each other from a marketing perspective, they are significantly more powerful when used together than either channel alone.

What’s most interesting is that while the talking heads continue to debate the value of one channel vs. another, the 800 pound gorillas in the email marketing and social media spaces are answering this question for us by taking convergence to the consumer.

In the past three weeks, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook have all announced plans to integrate email and social media for their end users. Google and Microsoft plan to integrate social functionality into Gmail and Outlook respectively, and Facebook is rumored to be launching its own webmail service.

These announcements are significant in that, if all three are successful, the consumer’s view of email and social media will become highly integrated during the next year or so. As email marketers, it is important to prepare for this shift by developing an integrated marketing strategy for the two channels now.

Get ready for your viral marketing programs to become exponentially more powerful.

Emailvision Strategic Marketing Consultant Paul Anderson

I have a great book – written in 1977 – predicting the future. Apparently by 2010 we would all be flying around in our own private hovercraft! In other words we, especially marketers, continually overestimate the impact new technologies will have.

Business users have always embraced advancements in technology – the quill, the pen, letters, telegraph, telephone, fax, internet and email. And social media will also find its place in the business users communication tool kit. Social media is yet another direct marketing channel, only this time marketers have much less control over the output and dissemination of information.

Email is the glue that binds social media together, so rather than replacing it, the two will work hand-in-hand and complement each other. Companies will encourage customers to share emails via their networks, identifying and rewarding those social media savvy users who are online advocates but who will also continue using email to communicate.

Experian CheetahMail UK Marketing Manager Rachael Taylor

The Gartner prediction certainly has raised the debate again as to whether social media will kill email. Social media definitely has a strong role to play in interpersonal communication across the business community, highlighted by the growth of LinkedIn (50 million users worldwide as of Oct last year).

As to where these boundaries between email and social media finish, that is less clear. Our experience from working with clients is that there is some definition needed as to how the two channels should work together but synergies rather than conflicts are starting to emerge.

Many B2C email marketers are now social media savvy. If the business community looks to the consumer market to analyse how social media and email work together, some immediate observations would emerge. Social networks are extremely useful for reaching out to new and untapped audiences. Using content such as video in email encourages the viral spread of campaigns across social networks and organisations can monitor subsequent spikes in web traffic as the campaign drives people back to the site.

Having email address collection boxes on social media networks is also a great way of building subscriber bases (as was the case with our client, ITV, that grew its I’m a celebrity” email subscriber base by 170% in Nov/Dec through social media). Driving transactions and building long-term customer loyalty, however, is what email does exceptionally well. New subscribers can be nurtured through opt-in email programmes that effectively build interest, loyalty and engagement in a brand.

The way we communicate is changing and marketers in particular are watching the social media space with interest. Email, however, remains king of direct communication. It is still the marketer’s strongest option for driving revenue and building loyalty in a cost effective and measurable way.

RedEye CEO Mark Patron

The death of email is greatly exaggerated. I can not think of many online channels that can claim 80% of their activity will be the same in four years time.

Social networks compliment email rather than cannibalise it. Our email clients already link social networks with their email. It is similar to traditional “member get member” campaigns which have always worked well for direct marketers.


The client view

Mark pointed me at Interflora, one of his clients, which can testify to the power of email working alongside social media:

“When RedEye suggested we incorporate Facebook into our customer engagement strategy it seemed like a no brainer in terms of reaching out to a larger audience. After just over one month of the page being live the results have been tremendous. Resulting in 60 orders and acquiring over 700 fans, the Interflora Page on Facebook is helping us reach out to new customers and build our relationship with existing customers.”

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Personally I like the idea of email, like mobile, transforming into a sticky glue that binds campaigns together, and one that opens up a new line of communication with people, and which captures data beyond the likes of a Twitter handle. That’s seeding engagement right there.

And it’s sensible too. I do feel that it is essential to migrate a good portion of (sometimes fickle) social network audiences to your own databases to be able to communicate via other channels, and to protect your efforts in the social media arena. I guess we need to define some new conversion metrics in this area, such as ‘fan / follower to registered user’, or ‘fan to newsletter subscriber’, or – ideally – ‘follower to customer’.

So what do you think? Is email on the way out? Or is it just getting smarter? Which companies are doing the best work in this area? I’d be interested to hear from brands that use email to join up marketing campaigns, or for any other multichannel purposes.