Direct marketers are waiting to see what Facebook's new messaging platform and associated email addresses mean to email marketing before spending time and money on related campaigns, marketing vendors report. But social email strategies are already being considered by everyone from email service providers to marketing consultants. They believe social email should absolutely be taken seriously—right now.
Facebook's unveiling of its new messaging platform, which includes the introduction of @facebook.com email addresses, coincides with added social functionality in major email platforms. AOL, Hotmail and Yahoo are among the email providers who made major upgrades in 2010, says Tom Sather, director of professional services at New York-based email performance management company Return Path.
Already, some of those email provider upgrades are outshining Facebook's messaging capabilities, Sather says. Email marketers should consider advice about creating a social media strategy now, while keeping an eye on Facebook's messaging platform.
Get in the social email game, or at least start creating the playbook, before you get trampled.
1. Customers receiving emails have no reason to break up with marketers—yet. “People still use email a lot for signing up to newsletters, transacting online, site sign-ups, notifications, etc.,” Sather says. “So they will be reluctant to use their @facebook.com address if it gets in the way of this experience. Also, email providers are already way ahead of the curve when it comes to email and not only offer the same features [as] Facebook Messages (like SMS) but they also offer a much richer experience.”
But, if the new social email platforms are more convenient and maintaining old relationships is more cumbersome, marketers may worry that consumers will just move on. Plus, more socially wired consumers may have already moved on, and platforms like Facebook Messages may provide an opening for marketers to get back in the game.
For instance, email is already low on the priority list for Jennifer Stauss Windrum, an Omaha-based freelance public relations and social media strategist who got her @facebook.com address a couple weeks ago. “My guess is that I will slowly integrate the Facebook email into my everyday use,” she says via her personal Gmail account. “Social media is my work, so I spend most of my time communicating via Facebook and/or Twitter and much less time answering emails. In fact, the way I start my day is: Check Twitter first, Facebook second and email … later!”
Facebook did not respond to a query about the level of @facebook.com address adoption, but the social network's press office did shoot back a notice that Facebook corporate addresses now end in @fb.com.
2. Social and email are merging. Jeremiah Owyang, an industry analyst with San Mateo, Calif.-based Altimeter Group, opined as early as July 2009 that the email channel is already the largest social network, and adding more social functionality to email would only enhance the user experience and cause social and email to eventually, “look the same.”
3. Mainstream email is already social. Sather says major email providers—perhaps pushed ahead by competition—are enabling social interaction on their platforms. But those platforms still have something going for them that he hasn't yet seen on Facebook: convenient retrieval and viewing of a variety of message types.
Here is what Sather sees some top email providers doing to beef up their email clients for social interaction. (While Gmail has a few social options, Google has struggled with its social media efforts, and Google Buzz and Google Wave haven't fared well.):
- Hotmail now allows users to connect on Facebook, Myspace and LinkedIn, and view and post within the inbox. Recipients can view YouTube videos in emails without leaving the inbox. The “Active View” setting allows such activities as tracking packages in the notification email and checking out movies from Netflix without ever leaving the inbox.
- Yahoo account holders can connect to and post to Facebook and Twitter. (Yahoo Mail's “What's New” tab also provides other social options.)
- AOL provides the option of connecting and posting to Digg, Facebook, Flickr, Foursquare, Myspace, Twitter and YouTube.