Social media can seem like an ever-present part of our culture today, going far beyond our personal lives to become a vital part of the marketing strategy for most companies. Because of their large amounts of data on the individuals that use the platforms, social channels can provide an enticing way to reach the types of people who will buy your product, and enterprise companies devote significant resources to doing so. Some businesses even surrender their own websites in favor of using Facebook as their primary channel for providing information and interaction to their customers.
In today’s environment, there’s probably little risk or danger in doing this. LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook (and Instagram, by extension) are all publicly traded companies with massive users bases, and they’re entrenched as advertising platforms with access to troves of data voluntarily surrendered by the people you want to market to. It makes sense to be directing at least some percentage of your marketing efforts toward social media.
But it’s important to remember that these are platforms — and large businesses — that you don’t own and have no real control over their future. They seem stable and certain to stay that way for the foreseeable future. However, it doesn’t take long to find other companies that seemed at one time too big to fail (MySpace, Blockbuster, Kodak, to name a few), and none of the current social giants is immune.
The way to guard against the inevitable is to ensure your email marketing program is healthy and forward thinking. Here’s why that’s so important:
Own your data
Data is the key to any strategic marketing outreach, whatever channel you’re trying to use. When you’re using social media as the middle man, it’s their data you’re relying on in order to do it. Your ads and marketing strategy are only as good as the data someone else is collecting and allowing you to use for a fee. And there’s nothing stopping them from changing literally anything about the data you have access to, the way they deliver ads, or whatever they want, as it’s their platform and their data they’ve collected.
Using email allows you to utilize your own customer data in order to orchestrate the campaigns you believe will be effective. You can use various means for gathering information from website visitors and event attendees, who voluntarily give their email address in exchange for something — perhaps a whitepaper or research report, a free webinar, or maybe just to access the great content in your regular newsletter. You own this data, and can dictate how and when it’s used, along with for what purpose. Nothing any other business does can take that away from you. Organize it. Ensure you have access to all of it. And appreciate that you have full control over it.
Anyone who’s advertised on social knows that you’re putting a lot of trust in their data and what they claim they can deliver. You put together your audience using their UI, and you have little choice but to trust that’s who they’re delivering it to. Not only are you relying on the cleanliness and accuracy of the data they’re using, but you pretty much have to trust that they’re delivering to the right people at all. Even if their data is perfectly accurate (It isn’t), it’s difficult or impossible to fully establish that the people of the demographics you specified are actually seeing the ads as you intend. And good luck getting anyone from Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter on the phone to discuss this.
Instead of trusting that Facebook is doing what they claim, wouldn’t you rather trust the people you’ve hired and can talk to directly? When you gather and invest in organizing your own customer data, you can know exactly who your marketing emails are being delivered to. You can audit these campaigns to ensure they’re hitting the inboxes of the people you want, and you’re directly targeting individuals who have expressed interest in receiving your messages, not personas that inevitably come with a lot of noise. Put the effort into making your own data trustworthy, and then put your marketing efforts behind it.
Social sites don’t actually want you
Of course, as of today, the main social channels are largely reliant upon unpaid individuals from around the world to fill their sites with a constant stream of content, from pictures of kids and puppy dogs to commentary on current events. But, ultimately, that’s not the business these sites would like to be in. They’d like to be media empires of their own, because they believe there’s money in it. And Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter have all made major investments in either producing or licensing original content in recent years. There are far fewer legal hassles with this approach, and they have way more control over what’s on their channels this way. Expect this trend to continue. The moment they can get by with their own content, they will.
And, at that point, the entire nature of their platforms can change. What do they look like as advertisers once they’re media producers instead of conduits? Who knows? Maybe they become more of a subscription service because it’s too much of a liability to try to monitor all the content individuals produce every day, and your marketing strategy goes up in smoke practically overnight. Email will evolve, but it’s not going away. It’s not going to change the fundamental manner in which it operates. It’s too useful, and too ingrained. People may hop from Hotmail to Gmail to some new service and then back again, but they’ll keep getting email. Owning your customer data will keep allowing you to reach them.