It's evident that consumers are changing the way they approach media, circumventing traditional marketing channels such as television and print media in favour of social media sites that provide easy access to information, advice and recommendations, according to Kara Trivunovic, vice president of agency services for StrongMail. This article is copyright 2012 The Best Customer Guide.

So what can marketers do to create the right channel mix? How can the email and social media channels be successfully combined to satisfy your target audience? While it is tempting to think of social media and email marketing as different channels that don't complement each other-and certainly don't have the potential to augment each other. Don't fall to the temptation. Email marketing and social media can work together, help to optimise each other, and drive additional revenue.

It's important for marketers to understand why consumers find social networking online so compelling. Humans are inherently social beings. We find comfort in the connections we make and the company we keep. The instinct to "onnect" with others is deeply rooted in our biological makeup - being social allowed prehistoric humans to cope with their very harsh world. Being social was a matter of life and death. Your connections helped you figure out which mushrooms tasted great and which mushrooms might be lethal.

These days, we connect with each other as a form of entertainment. Social media allows people to create and manage a very large number of connections with others. You can suddenly keep up with more people than ever before, without picking up the phone or even dashing off an email.

Ever since people began flocking to Facebook and Twitter, marketers have been trying to find ways to leverage social media channels to acquire new customers and convince existing ones to buy more. Giants in the retail space initially piloted the trend by offering exclusive coupons on Twitter and Facebook. Eventually this led to every major company having a Facebook page and Twitter feed, and email marketers began sharing links to their emails.

As consumers find it easier to plug into the life streams of others, they are spending more time interacting on a variety of levels - from communicating their activities and commenting on those of others to sharing information that they deem helpful or entertaining. In essence, consumers are relying more on their networks to help determine what's worth their attention, and less on mainstream media.

This shift requires marketers to think differently about how they spread the word about their products and services. On the social web, consumers often tune out traditional third-party banner ads, instead focusing on the endless stream of personally relevant information being served up by their friends. That's where the new discipline of social media marketing comes into play, which enables companies to identify their biggest influencers online and develop programmes that entice them to share relevant information and promotions.

Making social media work with email marketing isn't automatic and it's not easy. It requires careful planning and content management. Yes-many email service providers offer what they describe as "social media integration" and this works well for many people with smaller lists and smaller budgets. However, for the larger business with a bigger digital footprint, integration requires more effort plus a deeper and more detailed strategy.

Want to know more about some proven ways to combine the power of email marketing with social media? Let's say you're a large company and you have a strong digital marketing platform that includes:

  • 1,000,000 Facebook Likes;
  • 2,000 Twitter followers;
  • 4,000,000 email addresses.

These numbers may be excellent and admirable, but let's remember that the company with the largest database of engaged followers has a huge advantage over the competition. Use email to encourage people and give them an incentive to "Like" you on Facebook and follow you on Twitter. Use your Facebook platform to persuade people to sign up for the email database - and let them know you're also on Twitter. Use Twitter to encourage followers to engage with you via email and Facebook.

This effort to build the digital database must be constant and overlapping, including several steps:

  1. Careful planning and content management...
    The focus group isn't dead. But if you want to find out what your customers are thinking about, Facebook and Twitter are excellent resources. You can monitor social media accounts to discover what's going on in the minds of your consumers or you can prod a little to gather this information. It can be easy: simply ask your consumers what they think about issues, products, services, and their lives in general. You can then tailor content around what you know is interesting to your public. Customers are talking about your business in person and on social media platforms. Respond and engage with them on social media and through emails.
  2. Maintain a theme but don't self-plagiarise...
    It's important to maintain brand integrity, but it's a mistake to cut and paste content between the platforms. Keep the content theme consistent but repurpose it across the channels so it's fresh and engaging.
  3. Share the testing data...
    You know which subject lines work for emails. Use the same lines in social media. Always be testing, and then use the test results across the platforms.
  4. Social media, social proof...
    Harvest social proof and testimonials from social media and use them in emails and other communications. You can develop a sense of community, plus create buzz for all your channels.
  5. 'Only Available on Our Facebook Page For a Limited Time'...
    To get the audience jumping across platforms, use the old standards of direct marketing: offers, geographic exclusivity, "must act before" calls to action, "Special preview only for Facebook friends", and so on.
  6. Social Share: A valuable tool in the email marketer's toolbox...
    Social Share enables email marketers to drive list growth and acquire new, highly valuable targets by allowing email recipients to share branded email content across the most popular social networks, blogs and email. Marketers can leverage Social Share to provide targeted offers to their email list that ignite a natural sharing response, inspiring others to opt in for additional special offers.

Although there's little doubt that email and social media integration will eventually become the norm (some would say it is already), there are very few really compelling statistics to back up its effectiveness. The industry as a whole is, for the most part, still in "anecdote mode" when it comes to integrating email marketing and social media marketing. However, it is safe to say that the social channel is not killing email: in fact, they are not natural enemies but complementary channels that can be made to work together with their own strengths each helping to amplify the benefits of combining them.