While the World Wide Web continues to generate exciting new forms of human interaction, including such Web 2.0 offshoots as social networking and video-sharing sites, wikis and blogs, opportunities that result from the joining of both old and new Internet-based communication technologies can be aweinspiring as well.

Silverpop, a provider of permission-based email marketing solutions, strategy and services, has developed an industry-first technology that bridges the gap between email marketing and social networking which represents such a great match. Using links within emails, recipients are able to  quickly post messages to their profile page on Facebook or MySpace. When these social emails are posted on social sites, everyone connected to the original recipient can see the message, make a comment or post it on their own profile page. Dynamic content and personalization remains in-tact in the posted email. So when for instance Nike sends out an email about a new special offer at its stores in Kuala Lumpur, area recipients can post the message on their profile page to let Malaysian friends in on the good deal. So Silverpop’s Share-to- Social feature gives email marketing a tremendously powerful viral effect. Plus, the ability to pull reports on who posted emails to social network sites resulting in additional opens and clicks provides marketers with the detailed data necessary to prove the campaign’s value.

Without doubt, social networks have changed the relationship between companies and their customers. Portals like Facebook and MySpace allow people to share their thoughts and quickly connect with hundreds of friends and friends-of-friends and that not only for chatting with one another. Such online community sites are used to gather product information and recommendations, with as many as four out of 10 participants using social sites for these purposes. As a result, social networks have transformed the relationships between companies and consumers, giving shoppers a new and powerful way to gather information about products and services. Therefore, in today’s socially-driven marketplace, there is a new paradigm. Consumers rule. Marketers drool — with a mixture of envy and concern.

Individuals linked to one another on a social networking site are affiliated for a reason. They’re like each other in some important ways. Social email marketing, therefore, enables you to reach prospects who share some affinity with your bestcustomers. The ability to reach out to others with attributes similar to your best customers is invaluable. A growing number of marketers are catching on. According to JupiterResearch, 15 percent of viral marketers have created a Facebook application, and 35 percent have a fan page there. However, be cautious: Direct posts on social applications take time and effort and if you fail to update your Facebook page regularly be prepared to see negative feedback posted there that’s visible to all.

There’s mounting evidence that social networks are pulling certain audience segments away from the email inbox, and the numbers indicate it’s not just the Millennials, or Generation Y, the Web-savvy cohorts born between 1982 and 1994. JupiterResearch reports that 22 percent of email users say they use social networking sites instead of email. And Hitwise estimates that social network sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Bebo receive more Internet traffic than email sites Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail and Gmail.

However, though change is inevitable, most industry analysts and experts agree that email marketing won’t be going away anytime soon. A recent Pew Internet & American Life Project survey found that 92 percent of adult Internet users send or read email and therefore won’t disappear in the near future. Instead Forrester Research projects that email marketing will grow to more than $4 billion by 2012.

Most email programs are the repositories of customer data that is crucial to creating targeted and relevant marketing messages. Moreover, email is already a part of social networking—nearly all social sites use email addresses for signup. Additionally, while everyone is talking about social networking, few marketers have really figured out how to maximize and monetize its usage. In fact, those using social networks to reach customers or prospects aren’t investing a large portion of their marketing budgets in this new vehicle. Half of social marketers spend less than 5 percent of their online budgets on social tactics. And 29 percent of overall social marketers say that determining which tactics fit to their campaign goals is a challenge.

But new technologies that combine the rich reporting capabilities of email with the viral, consumer oriented nature of social networking have arrived to make reaching out to customers and their friends through social networks easier, allowing progressive marketers to enjoy the benefits of both.

In fact, a few companies, Silverpop among the first, are making it easier than ever to enable email recipients to post their favorite messages on social network sites.

Such new technologies allow email marketers to utilize social networking sites to reach out to customers, friends of customers and friends-offriends of customers.

Utilizing social networks to build brand awareness and loyalty will be second nature to savvy email marketers. After all, social marketing is first and foremost about relationships, and successful email marketers have become adept at engaging customers in strong, brand-loyal relationships. Social email marketing’s success rests on that ability to reach the right people with the right message and one they’ll want to share with others.

With pure social networking, accurate reporting data is nearly impossible to obtain. But by adding email marketing to the social mix, marketers are able to gather a tremendous amount of data heretofore unavailable. The value of an email marketing program that encourages recipients to post the emails they receive on their favorite social sites lies in its ability to track that behaviour. The means to track who posts emails to their social sites and identify which of those postings generate additional opens and clicks is invaluable. It gives marketers the capacity to recognize key influencers of their target markets and create programs with special offers or incentives just for that elite group, further bonding them to the brand and encouraging them to spread the word to their social contacts. Combining the targeting and reporting capabilities of email with the reach of social networks enables companies to build marketing programs that change their relationships with customers in very real and dramatic ways.

Social email marketing can reach out to influencers and energize existing email marketing programs, turning them into a powerful acquisition tool capable of increasing list size and filling email databases with highly-qualified prospective customers who share the same interests as a brand’s most engaged email recipients. The potential of social email marketing could easily far surpass the limited success of traditional viral email marketing efforts.

According to a report by JupiterResearch, only 10 percent of viral marketers were able to get email recipients to promote their products or services. And a study conducted by Silverpop found that while viral marketing was a tactic most email marketers wanted to try, those that did found it didn’t work. By comparison, social network sites create a natural environment for viral activity. Word-of-mouth marketing has a way of taking hold on sites like Facebook and MySpace.

As a result, social sites are an ideal channel for successful word-of-mouth marketing efforts, creating an opportunity that more marketers are taking advantage of.

For sure social email marketing will not suit everyone, but the marketers who stand to benefit most from it will be those who recognize that these sites represent exciting opportunities to engage with customers and reach new audiences. Marketers who desire to create mutually beneficial relationships with customers and who understand the value of integrating a tried-and-true, measurable marketing channel with a new one that offers tremendous breadth of reach will find themselves and their companies rewarded by the marriage of social networks and email marketing.

Source: Silverpop