October 15, 2010

7 reasons email still rocks PR and 3 rules to use it well

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With social media adoption rising among marketing, product communications and corporate communications services, should you still rely on good old email to engage stakeholders? Should email still be at the center of your public relations strategy? The answer greatly depends on your sector of activity and goals.

The question is certainly valid when over 80% of journalists hunt for, research and promote their stories online and over 30 percent of people regularly use search engines for news and information. And, inevitably, some companies have abandoned email altogether for their marketing: one such example set the blogosphere alight when the UK subsidiary of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream announced they had dropped email marketing altogether. And when a hotel promotion network recently ran a picture competition, they received as many entries from their 2.2 million newsletter subscribers, as from the 12,000 followers of their twitter accounts!

Alas poor email, I knew him well

Email not dead!
So, it is true that social media have become a great opportunity for some forms of engagement. But that doesn’t mean emailing has become a waste of time, as the new kids on the block would like you to believe. Quite the opposite, in fact, and here’s why:

  1. A 2010 Nielsen study reveals that reading eMail is still a very important online activity occupying over 10% of online time, overtaken only by social media (networking) and gaming.
  2. A well crafted Email + CRM project has very high SEO potential. Good writing skills are essential to create interesting content with links to your owned media. The traffic driven by these will provide a tremendous organic boost to your rankings.
  3. There is data in CRM that social media does not allow you to use as consistently or efficiently. Yes, you can create lists on twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, but these do not allow you to target a message in the same way as a well maintained database. In the above photo contest example, was the 2.2M subscriber list a well qualified and structured one made of opt-in subscribers or simply bought off a third-party? The abysmal response rates of the latter case are notorious and well documented. CRMs and stakeholder databases are all about data and targeting.
  4. A communication strategy built exclusively on social media requires very high expertise in both social media themselves and your sector of activity (a rare mix indeed) in order to identify influencers, material issues, most appropriate channels. It is not a simple matter of setting up a pretty Facebook page and idly watching millions of fans beg to read information posted to it. Behind each leafy tree of successful social media campaigning lies a forest of fruitless and uncoordinated efforts. Or worse, of flaming backfire.
  5. Besides, is your PR limited to people you can engage on social media? Not all audiences are reachable on social media. Social media is big with customer engagement, but if your PR implies dealing with local authorities or inter-government organisations, best ofluck with Facebook ;o)
  6. Even if your target contacts are on social media, they might not respond. Connect2 Communications recently conducted an analysis of journalist and analyst activity on Facebook and LinkedIn, Twitter and Delicious. The results show they use social media sites to hook-up with friends and family on a personal level and do not use these websites for business purposes or professional engagement.
  7. Finally, in spite of the blurring induced by new media, the frontiers between Communications and Marketing still exist. Goals and methods are not the same. Public Relations and Stakeholder Engagement best practices can be found in documents such as the AA1000 SES: all recommend using the appropriate channel for each of your stakehodler groups . Social media are a part of the mix, but so is the very efficient email + CRM tandem. In the case of Ben & Jerry’s UK subsidiary, bear in mind that Facebookers LIKE food and Ice Cream is one of the most favourable terms on Facebook. That company’s savvy and well researched decision would certainly NOT work for other industries such as Travel, Sports, Museums, Fashion, Automotive, Government, Pharma, Food & Beverage (the industry, not the food itself), Retail, Non profits, Education, Health, Beauty, Technology, Banking, Medical Services, Professional Services, Financial services … which all rank among the least LIKEd subjects.

In the next post, I will describe 3 rules to get the best out of your email engagement.
If you are mixing social media and email, tell me how it’s working out in the comments!

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