I’ve been in the email business since 1997. I think it’s near impossible to do anything for 15 years and not get bored. I’ve managed to stay engaged with email for that long because every 2-3 years, something big changes within the industry, causing all us email marketers to find new ways to keep our metrics humming and ROI high.

Social media is responsible for not one, nor two, but now three of the big shifts in email marketing, thusly:

1. Social Media as a Threat to email (2009 – 2010): A few years ago, the rapid rise of Facebook and Twitter prompted quite a few people close to social media to pronounce the imminent demise of email marketing. Very few people who actually used and relied on email joined the chorus, however. But we devoted no small amount of energy towards reassuring email marketers that all of their email skills and permission-based assets were as valuable as ever. Because they were, and they still are.

2. Email coexists with Social Media (2011): Once it was clear the sky was in no danger of falling, the email + social conversation shifted from how social would marginalize email to how email and social could c0-exist, perhaps even symbiotically. Share-With-Your-Network (SWYN) features were launched and at least one article per week in industry trades was on how to use email to improve social, and/or vice versa. The biggest distinction between this period and the fear, uncertainty and doubt that preceded it is that the prevailing sentiment here was based on sound strategy instead of Chicken Little sensationalism, and has proven to be largely true. My own personal take is that email and social are both permission-based channels, so the skills for success in them spring from the same strategy. I believe email marketers are uniquely qualified to succeed in social, so adopting a channel agnostic attitude for communications can benefit us significantly.

3. Email + Social Integration (2012): Here’s where we are today – looking for new ways for email and social not just to lift each other, but to work together in ways that produce all new insights and intelligence for marketers. If I knew what they all were already my job would be really easy – but also kind of boring. The truth is that none of us know what we’ll learn from analytics that measure the productivity of each channel within marketing communications. Will we learn that tweeting right before an email goes out lifts open rates? Or maybe that the net clicks from a campaign are actually higher if the email goes first followed by tweets? How will we optimize communications across channels for the maximum response? Is the ROI on growing our social audiences higher than growing our house list?

emailSocialLike I said, I don’t know the answers to those questions, and dozens more we can now start to ask about integrated digital communications. But we aim to find the answers, which really means finding the ways each of us individually can answer them for our own organizations. One of the ways we’ll be doing that is by sharing everything we discover on the new LinkedIn Email + Social group we started. Whether your job depends on integrating digital communications or you’re just a curious lurker, I encourage you to join the group and participate as much or little as you’d like. It’s really one of those topics that can only benefit from as much brainpower we can connect to it.