Complacent Marketers Give Hope to Social Media

A Houses of Parliament debate I attended recently gave a cold reception to the notion that social media will ultimately be the death of traditional forms of marketing. However, email marketers’ continued failure to provide interesting, relevant content in their marketing messages is playing into social media’s hands.

Speakers at the debate, including representatives from Facebook UK and More Than, debated the pros and cons of social media and its relationship with more traditional marketing formats, such as direct mail, television and radio. The end result of the debate, organised by the DMA (UK), was a unanimous public decision that the notion of social media killing off traditional media was farcical.

But there’s no denying social media is a massively growing medium. Facebook alone has amassed so many members – it hit 500 million users in July – that if it was a nation, it would be the third most populated country in the world. Scarier still, Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg claims the site is still only at five per cent of its maturity, so the mind boggles as to the potential enormity of the site ten years from now.

However, at present email still dominates social media as an internet channel. The most recent figures from UK communications regulator Ofcom, in its Adult Media Literacy Report 2010, showed that 75 per cent of internet users sent or received emails at least once a week in 2009, compared to just 35 per cent using the internet for social networking sites.

But marketers’ complacency for the dominance of the email channel may be encouraging them to disregard what their subscribers want. This could potentially be their downfall.

This is confirmed by the recent launch of the DMA’s Digital Tracking Study, which I attended. The event delivered the alarming news for marketers that 90 per cent of emails that UK consumers receive are not considered to be relevant to them. Two thirds of UK customers only find one in ten of the emails they receive interesting.

These failings represent a very real prospect that social media could eat into email marketing’s audience. Not providing consumers with relevant, targeted marketing emails runs the risk that their heads will increasingly be turned towards social media. Marketers need to tighten up their email best practice to avoid diminishing the value of a vital marketing channel, particularly when the efficacy of relatively new social media marketing campaigns is still being debated.

Marketers must ensure every email they send is personalised and relevant to the consumer, as lack of relevance is a primary driver of high subscriber complaint rates. The more relevant the content of an email, the more subscribers will want to share it and interact with the brand via other channels. Therefore unique, targeted emails support social media efforts and deliver brands higher ROI and conversion rates.

Social media’s growth has also changed the way email should be used. The savviest marketers use dynamic content delivered by email to offer consumers more immediacy and relevance, and to complement what people now expect from social media. Innovative use of social media within email, as well as other forms of content such as video, increases consumers’ levels of engagement with the brand.

While social media isn’t about to kill off email any time soon, the warning signs are there if action isn’t taken. Marketers who fail to follow email best practice guidelines will see more of their marketing emails – including email newsletters and the offers and vouchers that consumers request – continue to be treated as spam by their subscribers.

To find out more about using dynamic content in emails download Return Path’s Rich Inbox whitepaper at:

For more information about how to integrate social media into your email campaigns, take a glance at these tips from my colleague, Bonnie Malone: How to Make Your Email More Sociable

DMA (UK) members can download a copy of the Digital Tracking Study here.

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