E-mail has long been the core task consumers engage in online. Certainly we’re seeing a rise in watching video and playing games, but, mostly, e-mail remains a core activity. That means that the companies that offer e-mail are in a prime position to own a large chunk of consumer digital time and attention. Yahoo, Google, and AOL have managed to keep e-mail at the core of the experience, and build out more services from there.
Now along come the social powerhouses. Social media represents a chance to offer a very particular kind of e-mail. LinkedIn has long used the ability to message other users as a way to upsell paid services on the site. Facebook, this week, announced its particular take on e-mail, which is an integrated inbox, pulling together e-mails, Facebook messages, and text messages.
E-mail and social media are set to converge at some point in the near future. Both have contact lists at their core, and both are about sharing information. Really, what we’re talking about is a rearranging of the way that messages are displayed. E-mail has always been chronological (latest message on top). Social technologies will change this so that messages from people you care about appear on top.
This means that now (more than ever) brands have to make sure that people care about them, not just have opted in to their database. Social is going to disrupt e-mail marketing because it will require the consumer to have engaged in an action that signifies to the e-mail client that he cares about messages from a particular source. Think about it: Gmail has no idea that you opted in to an e-mail list, but Facebook knows if you have “liked” a brand. That liked brand gets to the top of the list.
E-mail has long been a new form of direct marketing. Now, it is a new form of relationship marketing.