Monday, August 27, 2012

Email is Still King When it Comes to Engaging With Your Audience

If your social media strategy is to direct your fans and followers to places where they can buy your organization's products or sign up for its services, this might be a good time to rethink it.
According to a recent report from e-commerce software firm Monetate, a tiny sliver of people who come to sales sites via social media—0.59 percent, to be exact—actually buy anything. Compare that with visits prompted by email (4.25 percent) and search engines (2.49 percent), and you've got a pretty big gap.

On top of that, buyers who come from social media sites tend to spend the least.
Tiffany Silverberg, a writer and consultant who helps entrepreneurs and nonprofit organizations tell their stories through social media and other venues, says she knows why.
"If there is one thing that consumers hate, it's hard sales on their social media sites," she says. "Despite the realities that social media sites are owned and maintained by outside entities, and the Terms and Conditions that always state otherwise, consumers assume a certain privacy on these sites."

If that's the case, what should brands be doing on Facebook and Twitter instead of pitching their wares? Silverberg and other experts weighed in.

The top (or the middle) of the funnel
"Facebook and Twitter excel at identifying prospects, not converting them to clients," says Jonathan Rick, CEO of Jonathan Rick Group. "Social media is a world of soft sells and long tails, where competition is transparency and every customer must be painstakingly wooed."
Silverberg says brands should build ambassadors on social media.

"Use the sites to build awareness of your brand, especially among those that already love you, and give them easy ways to share you with others," she says.

Matt McCormick, owner of smartphone repair service JCD Repair, says his company chiefly uses social media to prove that the service he offers is a legitimate one.

"People aren't too fond of mailing off their precious iPhone to just anyone," he says. "So we point them to our Yelp, Google+, and Facebook pages to let them know that we're a very valid business with a lot of satisfied customers."

Frank Strong, director of PR for Vocus, says each tool serves a different purpose in a customer relationship.

"Generally, search is for connecting with people who do not know a brand," he says. "Social is for engaging people that are getting to know a brand, and email is for cultivating trust with customers that know a brand and have opted in for communications. If we think of this in terms of concentric circles, again, generally, the 'sell' softens in inner circles. Why? There's no need to sell past the close. Instead, offer them a reason to evangelize for the brand."

Laura Fitton, inbound marketing evangelist at HubSpot, outlines it this way:
"Search signals an intention to buy on the buyer's part. Sending a marketing email signals an intention to sell on the seller's part. Social is an exploratory medium, not as much a transactional one."

What's so great about email?
Matthew Turner of consultancy Boston Turner Group says email wins the sales race, at least for now, because communicators can target emails more effectively. A tweet about a sale or an offer on a certain type of shirt appeals only to the fraction of the audience looking for that shirt.

"Email allows you send a specific message to each segment your audience," he says, "not just demographic segments, but also behavioral segments."

Social media plays a role in that, Turner says.

"If I'm tracking your online behavior, I maybe I know that you spend more time on pages about high-performance tennis shirts than the average visitor," he says. "If I send you email about high-performance tennis shirts, I have better chance at earning your business."
Rick adds that email enables direct negotiation, which "a Facebook message or tweet isn't equipped for."

Plus, people are simply more familiar with it. Email has remained mostly unchanged for the years, he says, but Facebook is constantly changing its layout and features.
"The lesson here points to the importance of integrated marketing," Rick says. "Smart companies use Facebook to establish their brand, they use Google to corroborate their credibility, and then they close the deal via email."

Changing notions?
Just because there aren't a lot of people buying stuff through social media now doesn't mean there will never be.
Fitton says she expects that people will grow more comfortable with the idea, as more people communicate via social media regarding planned purchases.

David Erickson of e-Strategy says people will eventually cozy up to the idea of buying products directly through Facebook tabs, a practice some companies have tested.

"Remember, back in the '90s people were very wary of buying stuff online, period," he says.
Still, Michael Beck, senior marketing specialist at OpticsPlanet, says that although buying and socializing may become synchronous activities, he doesn't think social media sites will ever take the place of e-commerce sites.

"I cannot envision Facebook being able to emulate the shopping features of a store like Amazon, whereas Amazon can relatively easily emulate or plug in valuable social features from Facebook," he says.

Matt Wilson is a staff writer for

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