Increasingly, social marketers are realizing the sheer power of email, and email marketers are realizing that social media is impossible to ignore. Even so, strategies optimally designed to make the best of both platforms are scarce. Most are best suited for one of the other, and don’t take into account the differences between the platforms.
That’s why I’ve decided to put together 5 key insights that will help you revolutionize the way you think about email and social, and how they can work together.
1. Social isn’t for your core audience
If you’re going to make email and social work together synergistically, you need to understand that they are very different mediums, and they are intended for very different types of audiences.
Much of the conversation about social media focuses on how useful it is as a tool to retain an audience. This is true, but it’s often overstated. The reality of the situation is that email is typically far better at retaining an audience than social media is.
Average email open rates hover around 30 percent, while the average Facebook Page reaches only 16 percent of its audience. The average Twitter CTR is just 1.64 percent, while the average email CTR is roughly 3.5 percent.
It’s important to realize that this isn’t necessarily an inherent problem with the medium itself. Instead, there are several barriers that make social networks a more difficult place to make retention work:
- Networks like Facebook organize messages algorithmically based on how social they are, rather than by date.
- Networks like Twitter are so cluttered that nobody ever sees every message they receive.
- It’s customary for users to clean up their inboxes, meaning that they at least see every subject line. There is no such obligation on social networks.
The crucial thing to realize about social networks is that they are not for your hardcore followers.
Social networks are a place for bite-size pieces of (usually visual) content that are funny, surprising, relatable, cute, actionable, or inspiring, often all at once. It’s certainly possible to retain an audience on social networks, but only if you recognize this fact. Take these Facebook Pages as an example:
All three of these Facebook Pages have one thing in common: their engaged audience is even larger than their number of Likers. This is because they share the kind of content that works on social media. It may be surprising, interesting, actionable, and inspiring, like your blog posts should be, but it’s always bite-size, as your blog posts should not be.
A good example of a business that understands this is Shopify, currently engaging about 6 percent of its Facebook audience. Contrast that with the most “popular” celebrity on Facebook, Rihana, whose engaged audience makes up less than half a percent of her total Likers. Shopify is doing that, in large part, by posting bite-size, inspiring images of quotes, as opposed to links to their new POS software.
Retention on social networks starts with that realization. It’s not for your core audience.
That’s what email is for.
2. What’s popular on social isn’t what’s popular on email
If you want to make a sale, a casual audience of social followers re-sharing your bite-size posts of inspiring quotes and puppies isn’t going to be enough. Shareability and relevance are at odds, and you need to mediate that discrepancy carefully.
That’s where email comes in.
Because it turns out that what is popular on social networks isn’t the same thing as what’s popular on email, even when it comes to shareabilty.
When research professor Jonah Berger analyzed the most emailed articles on the New York Times for over six months, he arrived at some surprising conclusions:
- Science articles consistently did much better than they expected
- Longer articles generally did better than short ones
- The emotion that contributed most to email sharing was awe, which they defined as “emotion of self-transcendence, a feeling of admiration and elevation in the face of something greater than the self”
Less surprising, but still important conclusions were:
- Positive emotions worked better than negative emotions
- Intense emotions like fear, anger, humor and awe worked better than disaffecting emotions like sadness
- Actionable content was more shareable
- Surprising content performed better
As you can see, while the emotional content of popular emails is similar to that of popular social content, there are some important differences. Long, conceptual, awe-inspiring articles outperformed short, TMZ-style ones.
This makes it immediately clear why email is the natural place for your core audience. It’s more natural to see in-depth blog posts in the context of an email. Social media is a place for friends and family. Email is a place for topic-driven discussion.
3. Combating email culture shock
Now that we’ve established that social and email are for two different kinds of audiences, we need to address the crucial issue of brand identity. As humans, we personify everything from animals to brands. A brand without an identity appears schizophrenic at best, cynical and robotic at worst.
So, how do we prevent culture shock between these two worlds, especially if our ultimate goal is to bring social followers into email, where the conversion rates are 4 or 5 times higher on average?
You can start by recognizing that a little bit of personality tension can actually make brands more attractive. Fictional characters are much more intriguing when they are conflicted, rock stars are more appealing when they seem sensitive and crass at the same time, and your stern boss might become more interesting if you discover that he sings Karaoke every Friday.
The important point is to strike the right chord: to appear multifaceted, rather than appearing hypocritical, or suffering from split personality disorder.
The key to making this work is to treat your blog and your social accounts for what they are: different places. You might hand somebody a business card at a cocktail party, and you might invite a coworker to a cocktail party, but the way you behave in each setting is dramatically different, and this doesn’t seem odd or hypocritical to all but the most stubborn people.
That’s the first thing to recognize about email culture shock.
That said, if you walk somebody from a cocktail party to a business meeting, you’re being a buzzkill, and nobody likes a buzzkill. That’s why the transition from social to email needs to be a careful one.
I strongly recommend posting links to your blog posts in the text fields of the images that you share on social networks. This is a very powerful way to pull users away from the distractions of social networks and onto your own site. That said, the image you share had better reflect the tone of the blog post.
This is why you’ll need at least two kinds of content on your blog: blog posts for social, and blog posts for hardcore followers.
Remember, social referrals are looking for something that reflects the tone of the image that sent them there: something funny, inspiring, cute, actionable, or relatable. Just as importantly, they’re probably expecting something pretty visual. While it certainly doesn’t need to be an infographic or a video, avoid a wall of text if at all possible.
Keep in mind that a good portion of the popular images on Facebook are really just stylized text and captioned images. You don’t have to be a graphic designer to hold their attention; you just have to keep things interesting.
With that in mind, you also need to have enough depth and bring enough insight into the fold to retain your hardcore followers. Ideally, you’ll alternate between the two styles of blog posts, and you might want to consider labeling them separately. To keep the user in control, refer to more advanced and more introductory posts whenever possible.
Once you capture these visitors’ email addresses, you might also want to ease them in with the messages as well. Send them useful, but introductory, lighter content. Focus on these more social-friendly blog posts either for a dedicated amount of time, or until their behavior suggests an interest in more in-depth content.
4. Pulling users off of social networks
Easing social visitors carefully into your more in-depth content isn’t the same thing as capturing them. A user can feel at-ease and enjoy visiting your site, and even intend to come back, but without an incentive they are unlikely to offer their email address.
Psychologically speaking, giving away your email address isn’t much different from spending money on something.
You need to offer them something worth paying for, even if it’s free, in order to make this transition. That was how Gregory Ciotti built an email list of 30,000 subscribers in a year, by offering ebooks that would be worth paying for. That’s also how Pat Flynn picked up 10,000 subscribers in 13 months and how Francisco (SocialMouths) grew another 10,000 subscribers in the last year with a free online course.
There’s some debate over how best to capture visitors. Pop-ups tend not to work because they interrupt the user before they’ve even seen your content. A prominent placing in the header can often be a good choice, although placement in the middle of or at the end of the blog post, with a call to action, is often a better choice. That said, if all of your blog posts read like sales letters for your ebook, even if it’s free, this will likely work against you in the long run.
One option that works surprisingly well is OptinMonster, which boosted WP Beginner’s subscription rate by 600 percent. OptinMonster detects when users are about to leave based on their mouse and scrolling behavior, and shows them the popup then. This isn’t one of those annoying pop-ups that prevents people from clicking the back button, either. Since the user doesn’t see anything until they’re about to leave the page, the pop-up doesn’t interrupt their content experience, and it feels surprisingly natural.
Needless to say (I hope), you should split test all of this, rather than operating on assumptions.
In any case, you’ll want to run some surveys and find out what your visitors’ objections are, and address as many of them as completely and quickly as possible in your opt-in form. Don’t rely on the fact that the product is free.
5. Leveraging your list for social explosions
Once you mix social with email, things start to get very interesting.
One of the more interesting effects is how social buttons included in emails actually boosts click through rates. According to research by GetResponse, including social sharing buttons in your emails increases your click through rate from an average of 2.4 percent all the way up to 6.2 percent. That is a 158 percent lift in CTR, thanks to social proof.
But email lists are also the key to growth on social networks.
To understand why, you need to understand something about how sharing works. In a joint study conducted by Microsoft Research and Stanford University, Sharad Goel and others analyzed a billion events shared on Twitter. They found that while the most popular tweets were in fact more likely to be shareable, even the most viral tweets didn’t make it very far if they failed to reach influential “nodes” in the network.
The “basic reproduction number” for every single event was “subcritical.” What this means is that even content that we would call “viral” isn’t actually spreading exponentially. Even looking at a billion events on Twitter, there wasn’t a single event that was shareable enough for the average person to successfully share it with more than one additional person.
This means two very important things:
- To dramatically expand your reach with a single piece of content, you need an influential person or organization to help
- To expand your reach over time, you need to retain your initial audience
Why that second point? Well, it’s actually not uncommon for social sharing to expand the initial reach of your content by about 20 percent. However, most people also lose about 20 percent of their initial audience, or more, for good, every time they publish. This prevents your audience from growing.
If you can keep more audience members than you lose, your audience should grow like compound interest, at least in theory.
Since email is better at customer retention than social networks, it’s paradoxically more important to your reach on social media than your actual social followership.
How best to leverage your list to this end?
There are the obvious social buttons on the top and bottom of your blog posts, of course, and if you actually ask your followers to share the content if they found it useful, this can be especially powerful.
But here, we also have to come full circle, and remember what kind of content does well on social networks: bite-size content.
And here’s where social permalinks and embeds come in.
By embedding social posts into your blog posts, you can dramatically improve their shareability:
- You can embed Facebook posts by clicking the arrow at the top right of your post and clicking “Embed Post.” This will give you the HTML code you need to copy and paste into your blog post in order to display it for your entire audience. (Google+ embeds are almost identical.)
- You can embed Tweets by clicking “More” at the bottom right corner of your tweet, and then “Embed Tweet,” which will give you the HTML code.
- To embed a Vine you just click the “Share” link at the bottom, click “Embed,” and get the code from the left sidebar of the next screen.
I would advise using these embeds in your blog posts to accent the storytelling and to give your blogs a more visual feel. Essentially, wherever you might typically consider posting an image, consider posting that image to Facebook first (or as a Twitter card), and then embed it in your blog post.
This will massively improve your opportunities to reach a social audience. Since these are the bite size pieces of content that work so well on social networks, they will perform far better than the “Like” button at the bottom of your post as a source of referrals and exposure.
Additionally, you can permalink to your social posts from your emails when it’s appropriate:
- To get the permalink of a Facebook post, just click the timestamp for the post. This will take you to the page for that post, where you can copy the URL and paste it to email.
- To get the permalink for a Tweet, click the Tweet, click Details, and then copy the URL.
- For Vine, click “Share,” click the link that appears at the bottom of the Vine, then copy the URL of the page that opens.
- Google+ has a “link to post” option when you click the arrow at the top right corner of the post.
To sync email and social, you need to start with the realization that they serve dramatically different purposes. Email audiences are hardcore followers who love the subjects and interests you discuss on your blog. Social audiences are, for the most part, entertaining themselves looking at bite-size pieces of content.
Starting with this realization, you can build design campaigns that allow these two media to feed off of each other in ways that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.