Originally published in MediaPost’s Email Insider, 8-21-12.
I’ve written before about how email and social media are similar, in that they are both permission-based channels (or earned media) that require a similar approach to content strategy. Engagement and empathy work better than interruption and incessancy.
But are email and social media similar enough to share not just a content strategy, but actual content? An increasing number of marketers have remarked to me that it would be nice if emails could automatically pull content off the brands’ Facebook timelines or Twitter feeds, and auto-generate emails. It’s a question worth pondering. After all, many brands put more energy into creating social content than they do email, and some are seeing their engagement metrics go through the roof on Facebook, Pinterest and other social channels. The social content obviously does its job.
The other trend I’m seeing is that many senior social managers are moving into that position from the email group. With social in the marketing limelight, it makes sense for rising marketers to point their career path through social on the way to the executive suite.
Finally, email is harder to write than a tweet or status update. With many brands seeing open rates decline, why not just find a way to limit the resources required for email and automatically scrape-and-send the social content they know is engaging?
Brands who regard email as a non-strategic channel, valued principally as an undifferentiated means of distribution for content, may find the opportunity appealing. But marketers who have grown their email list over time and who rely on it as a source of revenue, customer retention or engagement will, I think, be disappointed by the results of repurposed social content. Here’s why:
1. No call to action: Social content engages so well because — in part — it asks very little of its audience. It is not salesy as much as chatty. But for marketers who rely on email to sell product, fill conference rooms, book hotel rooms or drive subscriptions, social content in the inbox cannot be organized or designed to do the job nearly as well. If emails cease being revenue generators, they will end up being evaluated by the same branding and engagement metrics that CEOs often insist cannot be tied to sales. More important, the sales lost in the email channel have to be made up somewhere else. Guess what happens when you try to turn your engaging social media into direct-response channels? Yup, you end up squandering them too. Better renew your USPS indicia permit.
2. Loss of relevance: Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter all rely on email to notify members about specific happenings in their network — when a friend has mentioned them, a colleague has added new skills or contacts, or even popular tweets that may have been missed. This type of tailored social content in the inbox is highly relevant. But when a brand sends an email exclusively about what is happening on its timeline or feed, it’s narcissistic. Social content within someone’s network answers the question, by definition, “What’s in it for me?” Your fans and followers don’t want an email about what you have posted on your timeline — any more than you’d like an email about whom they are now following on Twitter. When email content is no longer relevant, unbsubcribes increase.
3. Broken promises: For many brands, repurposing social content may be seen as a way to make better use of their existing email lists, particularly if they have stopped emailing altogether. But subscribers didn’t sign up to see a rehashed Timeline or Twitter feed, and sending them content not tailored for the channel may be perceived as a broken content promise. It also sends the message that your brand is not serious about the inbox, which leaves your subscribers less willing to give you any attention there, or even let you in.
4. Email’s critical editing function is lost: Email works best when content is carefully selected from all available sources and tailored around the interests of a particular audience or segment. It is less about creating content than it is identifying what content will appeal to different segment, and applying an effective editing function (whether that function should be human or algorithmic is a topic for another day.)
This editing function actually IS a way that social content can be integrated into the inbox. For example, an automotive brand that pushes out everything in its social sphere to its subscribers misses the mark with almost all the content. But let’s say the automotive brand just targets its segment interested in pickup trucks with carefully curated social content in emails, like photos posted to its Timeline by new pickup truck owners, Twitter conversations about compatible cargo bed liners and other aftermarket accessories, etc. Not only would this draw subscribers into the email in the same way it draws fans into the social content; it would also draw email prospects into the social channel itself.
Finding fresh and effective content for email is an ongoing challenge. Repurposing social content for the inbox by itself is not a viable email content strategy. But drawing on social channels in the same way we use our newsletters and other messages to point to our website, blog and other media does makes sense. The channels do require unique content, however. Your Timeline in the inbox won’t be any more effective than the print ads we used to email out a decade ago. Audiences are too discerning for that — a condition that we marketers ought to see as an opportunity, not a liability.