Many of our clients either already have a presence on Facebook, Twitter and/or LinkedIn, or are at least interested in having one. And why not? The direct expenses of implementation are low; the ease of execution from a communications standpoint is appealing; the theoretical audience reach is irresistible; and the potential ROI is massive. It’s no wonder email marketers are turning to social – it sure sounds a lot like email.

How to make the most of your social strategy is a topic covered frequently in industry trades and at conferences from coast to coast. Our wheelhouse, however, is at the intersection of social and email. So instead of advising you how to build out your social presence and squeeze as much productivity out of it as possible, I’m going to help you predict how much productivity there is to be squeezed, based on what you already know about your email program. The email and social channels are very different and require disparate strategic and tactical approaches, but many of the qualities within your organization that bear on the success of your email program are the same qualities you’ll need to thrive socially as well. By looking at your email past, you can also glimpse your social future.

Resources: Take a look at your current email program, and in particular the full-time and part-time resources devoted to it. Do you have the people and culture in place to analyze, learn, share and otherwise dig deeper into your email program in an effort to improve and take full advantage of it? Or are the people (or person) who manage email communications strapped pretty thin? Social does not cost a lot of money, but it is expensive in resources to do it well. And under-supported social program will quickly wither on the vine, while the more successful efforts are tended continuously – with several tweets and Facebook updates and other activity per day. If your organization already supports email at a level that is commensurate with its importance as a communication channel, that’s a good indication that you’ll be able to bring a similar strategic weight to a social initiative as well. But if you’re just scraping by with email, you may well find a similar approach to social will underwhelm.

Community: We hear a lot about the 80/20 rule in business – how 80% of activity comes from 20% of the customer base. The connotation is that ideally businesses want to flatten that ratio out, so that they are not as reliant on a few people for most of their activity. But with social efforts, even steeper ratios can help you. Social benefits from a core group of ambassadors – the customers or members who are highly engaged with your organization and are the most willing to advocate to their own networks on your behalf. As an email marketer, you can already determine how if the 80/20, 90/10 or even 95/5 rule applies to your organization by looking at your email metrics. Run some Recpient Level reports to determine what percentage of your audience has opened 50% or more of the messages they have received in the past year, or who are clicking through at 2x or 3x your average. You will probably find you have a core group responsible for most of your activity. How loyal are they? Is 10% of your audience opening 75% of your messages, or more? How many click through 25% of the messages they receive? Getting a sense of how active your core group is can give you some insight into how well your organization or brand mobilizes its audience. It is a reflection of your organization’s ability to aggregate a community, visible in email metrics, and a pre-requisite for social success.

Conversation: Or rather, the willingness to engage in it. Most commercial email is not part of a conversation. We tell you X; You take action Y. But for social to be successful, it must be a conversation. Expectations are different. If you have a Twitter account and someone sends a tweet to you, she absolutely expects a response, and you’ve failed her if you don’t provide one. Examining your email program can shed some light on your organization’s capacity for conversation. In addition to just having someone in place to receive and respond to messages that come over the transom because of your commercial messages, what does your organization do to invite responses? If your sender address includes “Do-Not-Reply,” that sends a signal that conversation is not welcome here. Conversely, if your emails include actual contact info for real live people, and even conclude with a phrase like, “If you have any questions about this new program, don’t hesitate to contact Susan McWhirty directly at susanmcwhirty@ALLCD.org” you’re giving the green light for conversation. Without that green light, social doesn’t go.

Scope: Just as email marketers ask, “How large should my list be?” social marketers wonder about the potential scope of their social presence as well. While having a large email list is not a guarantee of a massive social presence, it’s still a promising clue for a couple of reasons. The first is that many marketers use their email programs to fuel their social efforts. The people on your list are the easiest for you to tell about your new Facebook page, so the more of them you have to tell the more early fans you can win. The second insight from a large email list is that your organization has figured out how to make itself attractive to a large audience. While the specific tactics for doing the same in social channels are different, the fundamental position your organization plays within a market does not, and you should be attractive socially as well. If your email list is smaller, it could signal that your potential universe of fans and followers is also smaller. But even that is no deterrent. Many tiny organizations enjoy a powerful social presnece because they are doing something remarkable in social, or are focusing on quality over quantity. Again, these same attributes fuel many successful email programs as well.