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E-mail + Social Media Convergence: Intentional and Unintentional Marketing

March 31, 2010

In the future, everyone will be anonymous for 15 minutes. – Banksy (British artist)

[Note: I update this blog infrequently, but you can follow me on Twitter @robinteractive]

There’s a lot of talk about “e-mail + social media” in the e-mail marketing and social media blogosphere. Typically this relates to intentional efforts.

Intentional E-mail + Social Media Convergence = Intentional Marketing

Sometimes e-mail + social media convergence is intentional. For example, e-mail service providers (ESPs) are increasingly adding social sharing tools (think ShareThis and AddThis) within e-mail, and some e-mail marketers are developing this functionality on their own. (How? Relatively simple. ShareThis image in the e-mail message links to Web page copy of the e-mail including a functional ShareThis button. Why not in the e-mail itself? These buttons typically work using javascript, and e-mail does not support javascript.) Social sharing tools within e-mail achieve measurable results, according to this Silverpop study.

Additionally, links within marketing e-mails to a brand’s presence on Twitter and Facebook are becoming commonplace. Same is true with social network links in signatures of individuals.

If you already have an active social media presence, these low-effort approaches accomplish the following:

  • Allow recipients to easily share your message with their social networks
  • Highlight other ways your recipients can receive information from you and communicate with you
  • Drive traffic to your social media efforts, building followers/fans/etc., to allow further communication and brand-building

Note this example from Jay Baer’s Convince and Convert e-newsletter:


The left half of the image appears near the top right of his e-newsletter. Links for Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. In the screenshot the ShareThis link is static and only shows the ShareThis icon, but “live” it is an animated gif that also shows Digg, Delicious, AIM, e-mail and MySpace. Very well done, and I’d expect no less from Jay Baer. (Check out Jay Baer’s Convince and Convert blog. You won’t regret it.)

Unintentional E-mail + Social Media Convergence = Unintentional Marketing

What if you could use your e-mail client to easily peer into the social media presence of those sending you e-mail? What if your recipients could do the same?

Consider this: many people use the same e-mail account for social media account creation (and related messages, such as Facebook friend request notifications) as they use for opting in to permission based e-mail. This was true for 63% of respondents to a study conducted by Merkle.

Take a look at the right side of the image shown above. This info was generated by Rapportive, a social CRM tool that runs as a browser extension (Firefox and Chrome-only at the time of this post, though they offer a bookmarklet for Safari) for Gmail users. The info it shows is based on the “from:” address of the e-mail. In this case the info is from the public LinkedIn profile associated with the sending from: address. (By the way, in the case of Jay Baer’s e-newsletter this is a different LinkedIn profile than the one officially promoted within the e-mail.)

With Rapportive installed, hover over any hyperlinked e-mail address in an e-mail and the right sidebar will bring up related social network info for that specific e-mail address. Often this includes a picture of the person sending you a message, as opposed to the logo in the example above, as well as info from and links to that person’s accounts on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, Bebo, Friendster and possibly others. Rapportive is a fairly new start-up. Their data isn’t 100% accurate (for example, the MySpace account that is shown for eBay alerts reveals that eBay is divorced, and also a Capricorn), but Rapportive is working on improving this.

Rapportive isn’t the only company integrating social CRM with e-mail. etacts also works with Gmail and provides links to a similar range of social network accounts. SenderOK currently has a narrower focus in terms of social network conection, connecting only social network profile images with various flavors of e-mail clients. (Both etacts and SenderOK offer other features related to e-mail management.)

Outlook user? The Xobni Outlook add-in has been offering this functionality for a while. Here is a screen shot of an e-mail from a friend of mine. Much like Rapportive and econtacts, Xobni pulled the social network info shown based on the from: e-mail address, not by any explicit info or permission given to me or Xobni by my friend:


Browser extensions, Outlook add-ins… Not exactly mainstream. But consider this: Microsoft has announced that Outlook 2010 will be more social out-of-the-box with the ability to keep up with your Facebook, LinkedIn, Myspace and likely other social media accounts from within Outlook.  What it will show for a message from any given sender depends on what social network accounts were created with that e-mail address and the privacy settings that user has in place on those social networks. The default privacy settings on social networks lean toward being open.

All of these examples illustrate one-at-a-time social network lookups based on e-mail address. If you want to batch-process a high volume of contacts from a database, Flowtown has you covered. In FlowTown’s own words: “When all you have is an email address, Flowtown can give you a name, age, gender, occupation, location and all the social networks that person is on.” Quite a few networks, too, including the usuals (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn…) and the  surprising (newspapers such as L.A. Times and Washington Post, Amazon,…)

E-mail + social media convergence is happening in other ways. You can import contacts from Facebook to Yahoo! Mail and even make Facebook Status updates within Yahoo! Mail. Microsoft’s MSN home page redesign earlier this month focused on Facebook and Twitter, and time will tell if they move Hotmail in the same direction as Outlook in terms of social connector integration. Mozilla Labs (Mozilla, as in the Firefox creator) is working on a contacts-in-the-browser integration which can pull contact data from various sources (so far Twitter, Gmail and Apple’s Address Book). The march toward e-mail + social integration is well underway, and in many directions.

Implications for E-mail Marketing (and Personal Privacy)

It is clear that when we send an e-mail, we are sending more information than we realize. To return to the Bansky quote that started this post, “In the future, everyone will be anonymous for 15 minutes.”

For individuals, outbound messages: This may mean that an e-mail to your boss shows a Facebook profile picture where you had a bit too much fun at that conference in Vegas, tweets you are making in the middle of the workday in which you complain about colleagues, and a LinkedIn profile where you’ve padded your accomplishments and/or indicate you are job searching. And that MySpace account you forgot about? Still there in full glory, not forgotten by these tools. This sort of info isn’t just being revealed to your boss and coworkers. Prospective clients, family members, friends, pastors, etc., will also soon have these links at their fingertips.

For individuals, inbound messages: If you are in sales, customer service, etc., social CRM tools can give you further insights into those sending you messages, information which may be useful in developing rapport, improving service, and closing the deal. Beware: you might also find out your straight-laced coworker turns goth on the weekends.

For e-mail marketers: There is a need to be mindful about what info is associated with various “from:” e-mail addresses used for outbound marketing messages, order confirmations, etc. Is this info less-than-ideal? Is there no info? Could or should efforts be made to intentionally link these addresses with social networks? And for those interested in database-driven marketing, what sort of insights can be gleaned from using database-appending tools such as Flowtown, and how can you use that information to send relevant marketing messages? (Related: Being online: Your identity to advertisers–it’s not all about you.)

Update 2010-05-19: Gist, the folks who have brought us e-mail inbox management tools for a few years have some pretty wide-reaching tools for searching out social network info and beyond for people. Gist’s Web-based tool acts as a monitoring dashboard to keep you up-to-date on the online activities of your contacts (social media, blogs, news, and beyond). You can import your contacts from e-mail and social network accounts, and also via .csv like Flowtown. A significant difference from other tools is that you can log in and see recent activity for these contacts, including blog and news activity search spiders have crawled and identified. It has a range of robust tools beyond this, as well.

Gist has also launched the Gist gadget for Google Apps which brings social network identification via e-mail address to the Google Apps suite. Tools such as Rapportive and Xobni (mentioned above) are an install on individual machines. Gist installing at the Google Apps admin level, though, brings this functionality to an entire company. It even searches out blogs and news for info about that person, and provides info about that persons company. (Hat tip to a @SpencerKollas tweet re: Gist for Google Apps.)

Your thoughts?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 31, 2010 5:28 pm

    Hi Rob. Thanks very much for using me as a good example. As a former email marketer, and a strategy consultant to email provider ExactTarget, I’d be quite the loser if I couldn’t get that social/email synergy figured out. But, all the credit at the execution layer goes to my friend David Hibbs @davidhibbs (who built the template) and my friend Lisa Loeffler (@lisamloeffler) who produces the newsletter for me twice per month (my email sign up is at

    This is an excellent, useful post. Keep up the great stuff. Thanks again,

  2. April 1, 2010 11:35 am

    Thanks for the nice review and great post! The next year or two are going to be interesting for email and social as these two channels merge together. With the inbox slowly becoming the de-facto communication hub, and with companies like ExactTarget buying CoTweet the future is going to be interesting!


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