It’s been a while since I had a big discussion of the merits of social media campaigns over email marketing, and I believe the question of “does email or social media works best for affiliates?” has not yet been settled but certainly been shaken up of late.
Certainly over the past few months as Google+ has expanded its reach across from Google Search to Gmail integration and recently Google Local there has been more acceptance that social is here to stay. I believe even big advocates of email marketing have started to accept wild card that pushes in favour of social media might not be just Facebook or Twitter but Google+ and its circles. While I think the Google+ platform is still made up of early adapters, the number of marketers jumping onboard has really started to gain traction as preferred avenue for content sharing and driving traffic to their affiliate websites.
The big advantage of social media is that it offers easier sharing of content but its biggest advantage over email marketing is that it allows you to cut through the noise and spam filters to reach your target audience. The big benefit of social media over email marketing is that brings back the opportunity for really good content to go viral, when was the last email chain letter you forwarded?
As people are becoming busier, they are looking for more ways to reduce the amount of emails they need to filter, along with the growth of “inbox zero” mentalities so they may not be as receptive to traditional email marketing. With the reduced reliance on email for their only source of news, consumers and customers are moving to social media as their primary platform for interaction online with friends, family and work mates.
Affiliate Conference panels still support email marketing
During the 2011 Affili@Syd conference there was a large number of affiliate marketers in strong support of email as they found it an easier place to sell, but also a much simpler place to engage with their potential buyers/consumers compared to social media. But one factor they did concede was that email is progressively getting more noise and competition as the scope for its purpose continues to decrease as social media changes sharing/research behaviours. One of the other factors that is making email marketing a harder sell especially for newer affiliates is the extent that search engines like Google are cracking down on data capture pages that many affiliates still use for growing their subscriber lists, but also the growing costs to acquire new subscribers.
Disposable email addresses threat?
One trend that has changed over the past few years is the move from an email addressed attached to your ISP that you kept for life, to a Hotmail or Gmail address and finally onto disposable email address you use to avoid email marketers. The growth in disposable email addresses will continue to rise as more consumers start to value their privacy. One item email marketers need to consider is when government regulators start to pursue marketers who flaunt consumer privacy laws and sell off email lists containing these disposable email addresses. It’s a very hard conversation to avoid if I signup to your email list using a disposable Travel.Deals.CompanyName@gmail.com address and start getting emails from a completely separate business… so you got that email address from me?
Email is not social and rarely shared
A big failure for email has while often very targeted it still seems to operate as a one-way broadcast with some minor personalisation features such as your first name, and this is no longer enough for most consumers. Based on the number of newsletters I forward on or someone forwards to me, I see another issue is that email marketing compared to social media has never really been overly viral.
I think unlike social media that allows you to share messages to your friends or post to your own wall, forwarding of emails has always had an element of risk and uncertainty and it’s a very personal action to send promotional messages to others. The final part that puts social media ahead of email marketing is that if you send or subscribe a friend to a newsletter there is limited engagement if they found it of value where if you share a link or message on their Facebook wall you often get a direct response if they liked it and even a comment on what they thought.
The catch22 for email is that it’s not social and doesn’t lend itself for sharing and engagement, but also many email marketers make half arsed efforts so are doomed to be beaten by social media. Placing half a dozen social share buttons inside your emails are often nothing more than a desperate plea to please “like me”, if you are trying to encourage social within your emails, stick with one or two channels and tie them into the conversation.
Why would Google want social media to win over email?
A big part of why Google would prefer social media wins is that while Google can run ads within the Gmail platform there a whole number of privacy concerns about the increase risk of sensitive information being disclosed when their software scans your emails to add context-sensitive ads. The bigger issue is a majority of users sit outside the reach of Google as they use products like Outlook/Thunderbird to read their emails along with a majority of users those who don’t use Gmail accounts so will never see Google ads.
Google has already tried once to wipe out email with their Google Wave product so it’s not just blind luck that they have built a platform that is integrated with mobiles and other Google products so you can always get notifications in your toolbar. There is no need for most users to have to login to their email to check their notifications they can just stay within the Google+ platform. Consumers are consuming more and preferring smaller bite sized chunks of information and that is where email marketers must adapt or perish.
Who else wants email dead?
Facebook is a very strong proponent as they are very aggressively pushing their integrated messaging platform as an alternative to email and have already killed off the subject line which takes part of the call to action away from emails. The second part to this process is they make it very easy for you to skip the entire email behaviour and send your messaging direct to your friend’s mobile phone, which does potentially open up new opportunities for SMS marketing. Universal messaging is getting closer every day and I see this platform as being very private and few businesses/companies are welcome.
Facebook obviously like Google+ wants users to stay within their platform and make it easy to setup sms or email notifications to encourage people to come back to its platform to read and engage with your friends/circles. Both Facebook & Google want consumers engaging and sharing publically across their platforms and with email marketing still one-to-one that doesn’t suit their business objectives, so expect they will make it harder.
My suggestions are if you are going to do email marketing, do it right, ensure you use a decent platform with double opt-in like AWeber, but also ensure you aren’t forgetting your social channels if you want to succeed. You can make email marketing work, but it’s just going to be much harder than it used to be without integration into your whole digital strategy.